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Fastener Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Structural Failures

It takes time to earn the trust of your clients and customers. A single misstep or shortcut that backfires can set it back in an instant.

Customers know their rights and will not hesitate to take you to court if a building product doesn’t work as expected. It not only ruins your reputation but can create major legal headaches.

Most - if not all - can be avoided by following the rules.

Here are a few classic examples of major disasters traced back, at least partially, to a fastener issue that could’ve been avoided.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse (1940)

Poor design choices and inadequate fasteners contributed to a swaying bridge in Puget Sound known as “Galloping Gertie.” It was so named due to its dangerous swaying and fluttering in windy conditions. The suspension bridge collapsed in a windstorm on November 7, 1940, only four months after it opened.

The Cautionary Tale: Inadequate or poorly installed fasteners can lead to catastrophic failures. Quality control and adhering to engineering standards must be followed for all construction projects.

The Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse (1981)

Over 100 people lost their lives when two elevated walkways at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City collapsed during a dance event. A design flaw involving a single threaded rod and a lack of adequate support for the weight of the walkways was behind the failure.

The Cautionary Tale: Proper engineering and fastener design can’t be compromised. Manufacturers should never cut corners or otherwise take shortcuts in structural projects.

The Apollo 1 Fire (1967)

Fasteners indirectly were involved in the pre-launch test cabin fire that claimed the lives of three astronauts. An electrical fault caused a fire in the cabin’s pure oxygen atmosphere, where fasteners used in the design and sealing of the cabin played a role.

The Cautionary Tale: This story reminds us of the critical nature of fasteners in high-risk environments like aerospace. Rigorous control is non-negotiable in sensitive environments.


Whether you’re constructing a door for space travel, working in the automotive industry or designing a dock for a marina, the rules and standards for creating a safe structure can’t be compromised. Here are a few additional takeaways gleaned from these great failures.

Use Proper Torque and Tightening

Ensure bolts are tightened to the right specifications. Never exceed the needed torque or fasten to a degree lower than what’s recommended.

Be Selective

Choose the fasteners designed to work under the ideal conditions for that kind of bolt. Using anything other than a hex lag bolt when it’s the specific fastener required for a project nearly guarantees a disaster, for example.

Choose Your Materials Carefully

Select fasteners designed specifically for the environment in which they will be used. For instance, if you’re designing a device for use in salt water, your fastener should be made of a non-corrosive material. (For more information on coatings and materials click HERE.)

Lastly, keep in mind all industries have basic standards that should be followed. Abide by them and you’ll maintain your reputation and avoid legal repercussions.

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on

About the Author

Larry Melone
By Larry Melone

Started my career in the fastener world in 1969 at, Parker Kalon Corp. a NJ based screw manufacturer located in Clifton, NJ working in inventory control, scheduling secondary production and concluding there in purchasing. In 1971 I accepted a sales position at Star Stainless Screw Co., Totowa, NJ working in inside sales and later as an outside salesman, having a successful career at Star I had the desire with a friend to start our own fastener distribution company in 1980 named: Divspec, Kenilworth, NJ. This was a successful adventure but ended in 1985 with me starting Melfast in August 1985 and have stayed competitive and successful to date. Melfast serves the OEM market with approximately 400 accounts nationally.

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