Two workers were injured Wednesday morning (Feb. 8) on a bridge-painting worksite in Portland, Oregon.
The names and conditions of the two employees, who work for Abhe and Svoboda Inc., have not been released as of press time Thursday (Feb. 9), but local news reports relate that the workers suffered “serious” injuries in the incident. Both were reported to have been conscious upon being rescued by Portland Fire & Rescue.
Jordan, Minnesota-based Abhe and Svoboda issued a statement Thursday evening that reads in part, "We can confirm for you at this time that two of our employees have been injured. We are doing everything possible to ensure they are getting the best medical assistance available. Their conditions are improving and their recovery is our top concern."
The contractor said it was cooperating with all investigations and that its employees are continuing to assess the situation. Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed that it is conducting an investigation.
Fall Between Platforms
Don Hamilton of the Oregon Department of Transportation told PaintSquare News that one worker fell from a platform beneath the bridge deck, striking another worker on a lower deck, about 20 feet below.
Firefighters rescued the pair using an aerial platform. Local news sources indicate that the two workers involved may be father and son.
Abhe and Svoboda is currently in the midst of a two-year blasting and repainting project on the bridge, which had structural work performed in 2014. According to ODOT, the entire project, including structural work, is expected to cost between $30 million and $40 million, funded by federal and state money.
Union Questions Safety
The cause of Wednesday’s fall has not been determined yet, but some are questioning the safety of the worksite. The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council #5 issued a press release Thursday alleging that “a report was filed with OSHA just a week prior to the accident by a union representative compelling OSHA to investigate.”
“In order to hasten the completion, supervisors have instructed workers to ignore specifications of the painting process,” the union contends.
Abhe and Svoboda is a non-union contractor.
A worker from the site, Omar Rubi, who is also associated with IUPAT, told PaintSquare News that he had concerns about the condition of the scaffolding, claiming that manholes were not sufficiently covered.
Rubi says he has worked on the site for about seven months, but was not on the site the morning of the fall.
The statement from Abhe and Svoboda notes, "Employees are encouraged to report unsafe conditions. We correct unsafe conditions or practices as they become known. Our safety statistics are among the best in the painting and paper hanging industry."
Past Safety Violations
The contractor, which works nationwide, has been cited before on safety violations.
Ahbe and Svoboda paid $27,750 in fines to OSHA in 2013, stemming from an inspection at a Washington state bridge worksite in 2011. That inspection resulted in 33 violations, later reduced to 24, related to lead exposure, worksite sanitation and power tools. Another inspection at the same site resulted in 11 violations, on regulations including those related to fall protection.
The firm has faced OSHA violations five other times in the past decade.