West Virginia Cooling Tower Collapse Caused by Premature Form Removal

by Hai S. Lew, (M.ASCE), Struct. Res. Engr.; National Bureau of Standards, Washington, D.C.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1980, Vol. 50, Issue 2, Pg. 62-67

Document Type: Feature article


The collapse of a reinforced concrete cooling tower under construction at Willow Island, W.Va. in April 1978 resulted in 51 fatalities, making it the worst construction accident in American history. Highlighted are: the construction systems, including the patented formwork and scaffolding system, and procedures used at the site; the reconstructed events leading up to the collapse; and the investigation of possible causes of failure initiation by laboratory tests and computer analyses. The most probable cause of the collapse was the imposition of construction loads on the shell before the concrete of the uppermost lift had gained adequate strength to support these loads. The article also includes a brief description of cooling tower construction in general and highlights of NBS's Recommended Guidelines for Safety Inspection of Construction of Concrete Cooling Towers based on existing OSHA regulations.

Subject Headings: Cooling towers | West Virginia

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