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The Holiday Inn Express Collapse Will Lead To Finger Pointing And Delays

A partial collapse of a hotel under construction north of Downtown Houston left nine construction workers injured. 

Six of the injured workers filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the parties involved in the development of the Holiday Inn Express, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The impending investigation could lead to fines and more lawsuits against anyone involved, and certainly will mean a major delay in construction, said Curtis Chambers, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration expert based in Arlington, Texas. Construction could be halted up to a year.

"Someone is ultimately going to be found responsible," he said.

The Holiday Inn Express at the 3400 block of North Main in Houston, after the roof collapse July 29.

Firefighters rescued seven workers who fell through the seventh floor of the building, according to media reports. They and two other workers injured in the collapse were sent to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries Monday.

The cause of the collapse is unknown and will be the subject of a lengthy investigation. 

The lawsuit claims that the workers were not given fall protection or protection equipment, and the involved companies failed to provide adequate staff, tools and training, per the Chronicle. The workers are seeking damages for their injuries and loss, as well as punitive damages.

The defendants are the Holiday Inn Express North Main, New Classic Investments Inc. dba Classic Construction Company Builders & Developers, and NAP Properties II LLC. 

"Based on reports, it is our understanding that injuries were minor and that the workers have been released from the hospital," InterContinental Hotels Group spokesperson Jacob Hawkins said an emailed statement to Bisnow. IHG is the parent company of Holiday Inn Express and will own and operate the new hotel. "We wish them a quick and full recovery. At this time, we would defer to the on-site construction company Black Swan for additional information."

Black Swan did not respond to requests for comment. 

"All of them are going to be pointing figures at each other," Chambers said. 

Houston Fire Department responds to a collapse at a Holiday Inn under construction north of Downtown Houston July 29.

This is only the beginning of what could be a long legal battle, Chambers said.

OSHA has opened an investigation into the incident. The agency, which enforces federal workforce standards, has specific guidelines for in-place concrete.

The investigation will identify any party that violated a safety standard, primarily in the pouring of the concrete, the shoring of the building and the designing of the prints, Chamber said. The agency will also check that employees were properly trained to follow the OSHA standards. 

OSHA has six months to submit a report and issue any citations. 

"The investigation is ongoing, so we will not be able to provide any additional information until it is complete," said Juan Rodriguez, Office of Public Affairs deputy regional director, when reached for comment.  

A collapse at a construction site is rare, but often more catastrophic than Monday's incident, Chamber said. There has only been one every two or three years in the U.S. Accidents become more frequent with a good economy and in a construction boom. 

Individual fall accidents are far more prevalent. About 400 people died from construction falls in the United States in 2017, according to OSHA. That was nearly 40% of all construction deaths that year. 

Being struck by an object constituted 8.2% of 2017 construction site deaths; electrocutions were 7.3%; and caught-in/between at 5.1% round out the top four causes for deaths in construction for that period, per OSHA.   

Until the ongoing investigations conclude, the construction of the Holiday Inn Express will be halted. The soonest the project could restart is when OSHA hands in its report, Chambers said. 

However, the recent legal actions filed by the injured workers will prompt additional investigations, which could prolong the shutdown. The project recovery will take time, money and manpower to examine and rebuild any structural damage or other damaged areas. 

The Holiday Inn Express under construction at the 3400 block of North Main

A number of missteps could have led to the Holiday Inn collapse. 

Each party involved — the developer, general contractor and subcontractors — will investigate the cause of the incident. Without being on the scene, Chambers said he can only speculate on the probable cause. He reviewed several news articles and videos from the incident. 

Typically a construction crew pours concrete from the ground level to the top. The team pours the concrete on to a temporary barrier of shores or posts. Plywood is applied on the lower level to support the temporary structure while the concrete cures. 

In some cases, a crew can get in a hurry, not allowing enough time for the concrete to dry before moving on to the next floor. This shortcut could cause extreme damage if a level implodes, Chamber said.  

Or, a crew may use undersized or improperly placed shores to support the temporary barrier, which can lead to structural damage, he said.

A team could also use the right materials and follow the engineers' prints and still end up in a critical situation. In that case, the fault may fall to the engineering firm, if an error is found in the prints, Chamber said. 

"People take shortcuts," he said. "It takes time and money to put in proper safety protections."