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Safety Panel Warns of Danger of Bleachers Collapsing

December 5, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government told school administrators nationwide Tuesday that poor maintenance and improper operation may cause certain indoor bleachers to collapse.

″Investigations reveal that if the bleachers are not opened properly and/ or maintained correctly, over a period of time, the bleachers may collapse,″ the Consumer Product Safety Commission said in a statement.

The commission said recent collapses of school gymnasium bleachers prompted the warning, which involves manual, telescoping bleachers made from 1966 to 1979 by Michigan-based Interkal and sold under the trade names ″Brunswick,″ ″Vecta″ and ″Interkal.″

The agency said that 16 collapses since 1978 have produced back, arm, leg and ankle injuries - some serious.

Last spring nine people were injured when a section of a bleacher collapsed during a graduation ceremony at a Colorado high school. Eighty-three students were injured in September 1988, when bleachers collapsed at a Maryland high school; officials determined that structural failure caused the collapse.

Francis Hubbel, president of Interkal, acknowledged that the bleachers at issue don’t ″have certain fail-safe features built in.″ He said the bleachers were redesigned in 1979.

″The old design is working but requires a high level of care″ by owners, Hubbel added in a telephone interview.

The company, which manufactures half of all indoor school bleachers, has sent more than 3,000 schools operating manuals and safety stickers to be affixed to the bleachers, Hubbel said.

He recommended school personnel trained in maintaining and operating the bleachers inspect the structures each time they are used.

He also said the bleachers should be inspected annually by authorized and trained professionals, preferably the person who installed them.

″Many of these bleachers are very old and very safe while others have developed some problems,″ said Hubbel.

He said the age of the bleachers was not relevant in determining the chances of collapse.

″We have seen bleachers that are five years old that have been in pretty bad shape and some 30-year-old bleachers that are in good shape,″ Hubbel said.

The safety commission said schools should take these precautions:

-Inspect the bleachers for indications of damage, wear and misalignment before they are used again.

-Routinely inspect and maintain the bleachers at least twice a year.

-Use only trained personnel to operate the bleachers. Do not allow students to operate the bleachers.

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