Pickathon worker deaths lead to $31K in fines against companies
State officials this week announced $31,000 in fines against two companies for safety violations following an investigation into two workers who died when a hydraulic boom-lift toppled over at the Pickathon music festival site in Happy Valley
Brad Swet, 35, and Brandon Blackmore, 27, were killed last Aug. 8 at Pendarvis Farm on Hagen Road while removing ropes from trees supporting a shade system array by Portland-based GuildWorks. Pickathon features dozens of musical acts on multiple stages in a rustic fair-like setting each August.
State investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found Pickathon LLC and its subcontractor GuildWorks LLC failed to follow safety rules such as keeping safety alarm devices activated and heeding the manufacturer's operating and maintenance instructions for the boom lift. Finding a history of failure to follow proper safety procedures, OSHA determined that the companies will not receive the normal reduction in fines granted to small employers.
"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 OSHA Administrator Michael Wood. "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."
Clackamas County Sheriff's Office investigators said Swet and Blackmore had ascended in the hydraulic boom lift before climbing further up trees to get to ropes holding up the complex shade installation above the festival's main Mount Hood Stage. They were wearing safety equipment and roped to the boom lift, which was reportedly positioned on an incline, and approximately 40 feet in the air when the boom lift tilted and fell.
Still roped to the boom, Swet and Blackmore were pulled to the ground with considerable force. Attempts at CPR were unsuccessful, the sheriff's office reported.
OSHA fined Pickathon and GuildWorks $12,500 each for "serious violations" for disabled safety devices on the boom lift to sound an alarm warning against operating the machine on uneven terrain, or to stop the upward motion of the platform if an employee became pinned between an overhead obstruction and the platform's railing and controls.
OSHA fined GuildWorks an additional $6,000 for failing to follow the boom lift manufacturer's operating and maintenance instructions warning against 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.
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."
Swet was an independent contractor with GuildWorks for seven years and had worked the Pickathon event for three years as tree crew lead. A certified arborist and owner of Foster Trees, he was described as being passionate about trees and how best to maintain their health and natural beauty, having a deep love for the outdoors and limitless energy as well as being a gifted leader, mentor and friend with a rare confidence and wisdom.
Blackmore, who has been a GuildWorks employee since 2017, was described by colleagues as someone was was "rock steady and truthful, always calm and quick to laugh," approaching every situation with a great sense of humor and positive attitude.
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