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Irish Insights

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Notre Dame: Safety procedures inadequate in student death

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame's investigation into the death of a 20-year-old student videographer revealed the institution's procedures regarding wind safety were inadequate.

On Monday, the university released the results of its investigation of the accident that resulted in the death of Declan Sullivan. Peter Likins, an engineer and former University of Arizona president, independently reviewed the school's findings.

The full report can be read here.

Sullivan, a junior film student from Long Grove, Ill., died when the hydraulic lift he was filming football practice from fell over in a 53 mph wind gust Oct. 27.

Notre Dame's investigation found that football staff members responsible for determining safe practice conditions used out-of-date weather information the day of the accident. But the school said no one ignored safety.

"The people involved on that day had a protocol and procedures. They followed that conscientiously," said the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president. "The wind was checked eight times before practice. Those protocols and procedures were not adequate....

"We did not find any individual who disregarded safety or was indifferent to safety."

Notre Dame's report was released two days after the end of the football team's spring practice and about a month after the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration fined the university $77,500 for six safety violations tied to the accident.

Notre Dame has requested a formal hearing to discuss the state's findings.

The university's investigation found football staff members likely used readings from the National Weather Service at 1:54 p.m. Oct. 27 that showed 23 mph winds, with gusts of 29 mph, before getting ready for the 3:45 p.m. practice.

The staff did not see at 2:54 p.m. the weather service showed winds of 29 mph with 38 mph gusts, according to the report.

Notre Dame said director of football operations Chad Klunder, then-head athletic trainer Jim Russ and director of football video and film Tim Collins were involved in advising coach Brian Kelly on whether it was safe to practice outside.

No one has been disciplined by the university, Jenkins said.

"Our conclusion is that it is a collective responsibility and must be dealt with collectively as we move forward," Jenkins said.

Notre Dame executive vice president John Affleck-Graves, who led the investigation, outlined four main reasons for the accident:

  • A sudden and extraordinary 53 mph burst of wind.
  • Staff members' lack of knowledge regarding on-the-field wind speeds.
  • The lift that fell, a Marklift, is structurally different than two other lifts used (Oct. 27) and is more susceptible to tipping.
  • The height of the lift (40 feet) at the time of the accident.
Notre Dame has replaced the use of lifts at its outdoor football practice facility with a remote-controlled camera system.

The university said it will implement eight safety recommendations for the use of scissor lifts on campus. The recommendations are:

  • Adoption of the international wide-speed standard of 28 mph to operate the lifts.
  • Access to real-time weather information during lift operation.
  • Appointment of athletic department safety contacts, who have authority over the safety of all on-field personnel during athletic practices and events.
  • Establishment of an athletic department practice safety protocol to provide criteria that allow staff to determine safe practice locations, procedures and logistics. This will be reviewed by the Office of Risk Management and Safety and all safety contacts.
  • A new lift identification protocol for Risk Management and Safety to have a better sense of inventory and those who are trained to use the lifts.
  • A new inspection protocol for all lifts, including a pre-operation checklist.
  • A new training protocol for all university personnel who use lifts.
  • In association with IOSHA, the development and participation in a national safety education program.
tkrausz@jg.net

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