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Notre Dame clears its staff in student worker's death (4/20)

April 20, 2011
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Declan Sullivan

Despite being issued the most serious safety violation allowable under Indiana law by the state Department of Labor (DOL), the University of Notre Dame has determined that no staff members are responsible for the death of student employee Declan Sullivan, who died after the scaffold he was on while videotaping football practice fell in high winds last year.

In a report released this week following a six-month investigation, the university did not include actions by staff members as one of the reasons for the accident.

Notre Dame officials did blame a “sudden and extraordinary” 53 mph burst of wind as one reason for the scaffold’s collapse. However, prior to arriving at the field on the day of his death, Sullivan had tweeted to friends about the gusts of up to 60 mph that were forecast for that day. Additionally, after videotaping in high winds for an hour, he tweeted: “This is terrifying.”

Indiana DOL Commissioner Lori Torres said; “The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated that the university made a decision to utilize its scissor lifts in known adverse weather conditions.”

In addition to the wind gust, the report also identified staff members’ lack of knowledge regarding on-the-field wind speeds, the height of the lift and its susceptibility to tipping as factors in the accident.

"After a thorough and painstaking study... we have reached the conclusion that no one acted in disregard for safety," the university president, the Rev. John Jenkins, wrote. "Each individual involved based his decisions and actions that day on the best information available at the time and in accord with the procedures that were in place."

No one was disciplined after Sullivan's death, although the state DOL levied $77,500 in fines against the university for the six serious safety violations – including one for failing to properly train the student employees in how to operate a scissor lift.

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