Library Articles


Adapted from material by the Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering
Texas A&M University
NSF Grant Number DIR-9012252

 


Introduction to the Case

The following case is based on an actual incident. However, individual actors and company names have been changed due to possible pending litigation. In addition, although conversations and memorandums used are based on evidence surrounding the case, they are hypothetical in nature, and are used to illustrate important issues rather than to attempt an actual reenactment of what "really" happened.

In 1982, a television station video crew was filming the raising of their new television tower. The antenna was designed and manufactured by Antenna Engineering, Inc., a moderately sized local firm. Riggers, Inc., a small local firm, was contracted to raise and assemble the antenna. During the initial design, Antenna Engineering submitted antenna plans to Riggers for their approval. Riggers approved the plans, which provided for placement of the antenna hoisting lugs. These lugs provided attachment points for lifting cables that would be used for removing the antenna sections from the delivery truck, and for hoisting the antenna into the air for final assembly on a 1000- foot tower. A crew of riggers who had constructed such towers for many years was on site The crew used a vertically-climbing crane mounted on the already constructed portion of the tower to lift each new section of the tower, and finally, the two-section antenna onto the top of the tower. The design called for a three-legged tower, and as each new section was lifted, it was positioned and bolted onto the previous tower sections, one piece at a time. The tower legs were solid steel bars with 8-inch diameters. The tower sections weighed approximately 10,000 pounds and were each 40 feet long. They were raised without incident to a height of about 1000 feet.

The two final antenna sections arrived at the site and assembly proceeded as planned, until the last antenna section was ready to be hoisted into position. This section was different from the other sections of the antenna because it had microwave baskets attached to the sides of the antenna. The placement of the hoisting lugs allowed the antenna to be lifted horizontally off the delivery truck, but the baskets interfered with the lifting cables when the antenna was rotated to a vertical position. A makeshift extension to the lifting lug had to be fashioned by the riggers to permit the last section's vertical hoisting. Unfortunately, on the day of videotaping during the hoisting of this last section, something went wrong, and while the antenna was being hoisted, the bolts on the makeshift lifting lug extension failed. The result was a tragedy. Several riggers fell a thousand feet to their death.

The video camera caught this catastrophe on film, and through its footage, investigators were able to discover where the failure initiated, and why the accident occurred. The case of the antenna tower collapse raises serious questions about the design engineer's social responsibility to ensure safety on the construction site, and poses additional questions about product liability issues in engineering and ethics.

Ethical issues raised by the case involve social responsibility versus legal liability, engineering responsibility for failed innovation, problems associated with design implementation, and liability and negligence issues.


The Cast of Characters

Antenna Engineering, Inc.
designed and built the antenna.

William (Bill) Harris — President. Harris recommended to Jordan that Antenna Engineering, Inc. not get involved with Riggers problems regarding lifting the antenna tower, due to legal liability issues.

Harry Jordan — Head of the Engineering Division. Jordan told Riggers that they could not authorize removing the microwave baskets, yet he also told Riggers that the engineering firm signed off responsibility once Riggers accepted their design plans.

Riggers, Inc. was contracted to assemble the antenna.

Frank Catch — President.

Randall Porter — Vice President. Made initial call to Antenna Engineering, Inc., detailing the problems Riggers was having lifting the top antenna section with the microwave baskets on it.

Bob Peters — Lead Lift. One of the workers killed in the collapse.

Kevin Chapp — Cable Operator. Talked to Peters before the catastrophe, asking about the safety of the operation.

The Problem

Riggers, Inc. could not hoist the last antenna section using the lifting lugs Antenna Engineering provided due to interference with microwave baskets. Antenna Engineering refused permission for Riggers to remove the basket and reassemble after hoisting.

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