The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a nationwide alert warning owners and operators of lighted outdoor athletic facilities to immediately inspect their poles for cracks and other signs of instability. A great deal of credit for this should go to a Texas newspaper. The warning came during an investigation initiated by the agency after the Austin American-Statesman’s reports on the failure of more than a dozen stadium light poles designed by a Fort Worth company. The continuing danger presented by the giant poles designed and sold by Whitco Co. LP prompted the CPSC to issue the alert at this stage of its investigation. Because of the hazard and safety risks, the agency apparently felt it was necessary to go ahead with the alert even though the investigation hasn’t been completed.
Because there was no comprehensive list of Whitco’s customers, the alert was sent to public agencies and others who might own or be responsible for large lighted areas. The warning does not speculate on what caused the company’s poles to fail. The alert warned that the galvanized steel poles, weighing up to four tons each, “can fracture or crack and fall over, posing a risk of serious injury and death to patrons and bystanders from being hit or crushed.” It stated further that “to reduce the risk of injury, Whitco Co. LP outdoor steel stadium light poles should be inspected immediately.”
In March, a 125-foot pole at Bob Shelton Stadium in Hays County, Texas, fell onto the roof of a gymnasium during a girls junior varsity soccer game. Over the next several months, the Statesman documented more than a dozen Whitco poles falling in recent years. Thus far the commission says it has confirmed nine incidents of falling Whitco poles between 2000 and 2006. Most of the incidents occurred at public school athletic facilities.
Whitco declared bankruptcy in 2006, so most of the school districts bore the cost of replacing the lights themselves. The company also did not leave behind a customer list, which has made it difficult to alert other stadium owners of the potential danger. Even though no one has been injured so far, there have been near misses that caused significant property damage and left spectators shaken. While most of the incidents have taken place in Texas, others have been reported in Kansas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Massachusetts and other locations.
The CPSC said it also has tabulated “nearly 50” Whitco poles that had not fallen, but had developed worrisome cracks and were removed. The Statesman has counted about 100 Whitco poles that school districts and other athletic facility owners removed for safety reasons in recent years. Though some of those did not have visible cracks, they were taken down as a precaution because other poles at the same location were cracked.
While experts said the poles should last decades, all of the cracked or fallen Whitco poles were less than ten years old. Some engineers who examined the broken poles blamed rapid vibrations caused by light winds for cracks that have appeared at the poles’ bases. But others have concluded that Whitco’s poles were poorly designed, with the base plates and the metal used in the tubes too thin to support the towers. Although Whitco didn’t fabricate the poles, they were made to the company’s specifications. It’s not known when the CPSC’s final report on Whitco and its poles will be completed.
Source: Austin American-Statesman
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