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Agency cites negligence in operation of boom lift at Happy Valley festival site; Pickathon founder promises changes

PMG FILE PHOTO - This rented boom lift crashed to the ground on Aug. 8, 2019, killing arborists Brandon Blackmore and Brad Swet, who were helping to break down canopies attached to threes at the Pickathon festival in Happy Valley.  Oregon OSHA has issued $31,000 in fines against two companies for safety violations following an investigation of a boom lift accident that killed two workers at Pendarvis Farm, the site of the annual Pickathon Music Festival in Happy Valley.

The division's investigation of the Aug. 8, 2019, accident that killed arborists Brandon Blackmore and Brad Swet, found Pickathon LLC and GuildWorks LLC, a subcontractor to Pickathon LLC, failed to follow safety rules governing the operation of a boom lift, OSHA said in a recent announcement.

Those rules included keeping safety alarm devices activated and heeding the manufacturer's operating and maintenance instructions for the machine.

"It is an employer's responsibility to make sure that safety rules are followed for the very purpose of protecting workers from such tragedies," said Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA, in the annoucement. "This is a time to pause and remember that two people died, leaving behind family and friends. And it is a time to remind ourselves that this accident was entirely preventable."

Positioned in the platform of a boom lift raised about 40 feet high, Blackmore and Swet were dismantling festival-related ropes and hardware attached to trees when the boom lift tipped over, crashing to the ground and killing them. The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said that the workers were wearing safety equipment and were roped to the boom lift.

Oregon OSHA cited both Pickathon and GuildWorks because two alarm devices on the boom lift had been disabled, OSHA officials said. One device would sound an alarm warning against operating the machine on uneven terrain, while the other would stop the upward motion of the platform if a worker became pinned between an overhead obstruction and the platform's railing and controls.COURTESY PHOTO - Arborists Brandon Blackmore, top, and Brad Swet, below, were killed on Aug. 9, 2019, when the boom crane they were working on toppled and crashed to the ground.  COURTESY PHOTO - Brad Swet

The violation carries a $12,500 penalty for each of the companies.

Oregon OSHA also fined GuildWorks $6,000 for what OSHA said was failing to follow the boom lift manufacturer's operating and maintenance instructions. They included not raising the boom while on an uneven surface; maintaining a firm footing on the platform's floor at all times; not moving the machine while the boom was extended and while the machine was stationed on a sloped surface; and not putting the boom in a raised position while the counterweight — which acts as a balance — is located on the downward side of a slope.

Using its discretionary penalty authority, Oregon OSHA determined that the companies will not receive the normal reduction in the penalty granted to small employers, as the investigation revealed a history of failing to follow proper safety procedures.

In addition to its enforcement activities, Oregon OSHA offers employers resources to help improve workplace safety and health.

In the wake of the OSHA fines, Pickathon founder Zale Schoenborn expressed remorse about the conditions that led to the deaths of Swet and Blackmore. He promised notable changes this year's event, scheduled for Aug. 2-4 at Pendarvis Farm.

"The tragic loss that the families of Brad and Brandon, Pickathon, Guildworks and the larger festival community suffered last year was absolutely heartbreaking and continues to shake us to our core," Schoenborn said. "We have always focused on safety with the same passion that we bring to producing the festival experience, and in our 21-year history, this was our first serious accident."

Visitors to this year's four-day music and art festival can expect to see notable physical changes to the site's setup.

"In 2020, we are challenging ourselves to completely redesign and rethink the festival, Schoenborn added, "with safety even more at the forefront in an effort to create a whole new Pickathon experience that is closer to nature, closer to the ground and closer to the audience than ever before."

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