Notre Dame seeks talks on fine over student death

Notre Dame has asked for more talks with the Indiana agency that fined the school $77,500 for the October accident that killed a student filming football practice atop a hydraulic lift toppled by high winds.

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the fine last month, saying the school ignored safety standards that could have prevented Declan Sullivan's death. Winds were gusting to 53 mph on Oct. 27 when the 20-year-old junior from Long Grove, Ill., went up in the lift.

The school had until Thursday to accept the findings and pay the fines, contest the safety orders or meet with the agency. IOSHA spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said school representatives met with the agency last week and filed notice Tuesday that they want a formal hearing to discuss the state's findings.

The request gives the school 45 days to continue its discussions with IOSHA before a hearing would be set before an administrative law judge, McFarland said. She said the formal hearings are common "so that they can understand the specifics of the state's order and ask questions."

But McFarland said few cases actually reach the hearing stage and most are resolved earlier. She said the agency's talks with Notre Dame have so far been productive.

"They're progressing to what we believe will be an acceptable end," McFarland said.

Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown called the talks "positive and productive."

"Though the university and IOSHA are near resolution, more time is needed to finalize the agreement," he said. "Unfortunately, the timelines imposed by statute required filing the notice of contest in order to continue these discussions."

IOSHA fined Notre Dame for six violations, including knowingly putting its employees in an unsafe situation. Other violations included a failure to make annual, monthly or weekly inspections of the lifts for more than a year; a failure to have the scissor lift serviced as required by the manufacturer; and a failure to have an operator's manual on the unit. The lift was also missing some warning labels while others were faded.

The state said its investigation ruled out mechanical failure.

The school has replaced the lifts with remote-controlled cameras and is conducting its own investigation. The Rev. John Jenkins, university president, has said the school would study the IOSHA report and take necessary actions to protect students and staff.

The so-called scissor lifts rented by the university were not supposed to be used in winds above 28 mph, but the weather service had issued a warning the day of Sullivan's death saying winds of 25 mph to 35 mph were expected with gusts of up to 45 mph.

The IOSHA report did not identify who was responsible for making the decision to allow student videographers to go up in the lifts that day. Coach Brian Kelly told state investigators he decides whether to practice outside, relying "on information from my support staff."

Sullivan wasn't happy when he found out the team would be practicing outside, assistant video coordinator Reuel Joaquin told an IOSHA investigator. And less than an hour earlier, Sullivan had tweeted his concerns about what he described as "terrifying" weather.

"Gusts of wind up to 60 mph today will be fun at work ... I guess I've lived long enough," he wrote.