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Owner Cites ‘Human Error’ in Painter’s Death

Friday, December 10, 2010

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Deer Isle Sedgwick Bridge

A bridge painter who suffered a fatal fall on a worksite in Maine last week was the victim of human error, the owner of the contracting company says.

“Somebody screwed up; there’s no two ways about it,” Stavros Semanderes, owner of Odyssey Contracting (also known as Odyssey Painting Co.), said in an interview Friday (Dec. 10).

“The man was a good worker, a safe worker.”

Authorities said Ercio Gasques, 29, of Newark, NJ, was killed on the afternoon of Dec. 5 when he fell from the Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge in Maine, where he was working with two others to dismantle equipment on the last day of a painting project. The bridge, built in 1939, spans Eggemoggin Reach.

Gasques fell about 35 feet and, with the water at low tide, broke his neck on the rocks below, Semanderes said. Gasques died on the way to the hospital.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident.

Harness, Lanyard Used

Gasques had worked for Odyssey for only about a month but had prior experience and had been assigned to the Deer Isle project since beginning work at Odyssey, Semanderes said

Semanderes said Gasques had been supervising the other two workers in removing rigging from the bridge. Gasques had just radioed the other men to bring a bucket truck to the bridge surface just a few feet above him. The other men were positioning the truck when Gasques fell, Semanderes said.

The two men on the bridge did not see the fall, although one was apparently supposed to have been acting as a spotter, he added.

On the ground, Gasques was found to be wearing a fall harness, with lanyard attached. The harness and lanyards were intact, indicating that Gasques most likely had not been secured properly, Semanderes said. “None of the equipment failed,” he added.

“A line should have been in place,” said Semanderes. “Independent of that, he could have hooked into the steel” on the bridge structure.

2nd Fatal Fall

In October 2009, another painter for Odyssey Contracting perished in a 124-foot fall while working on the McKees Rock Bridge in McKees Rock, PA. Michael L'Hereaux, 54, of Ohio was conducting abrasive blasting under the Pittsburgh end of the bridge and fell from a two-point suspension scaffold.

The scaffold gave way when L’Hereaux accidentally turned his blast equipment on a cable that was holding the scaffold, an OSHA investigation later found. The blast medium cut through the cable. L’Hereaux had been issued a safety harness but was not wearing it at the time, an OSHA spokeswoman said this week.

Nevertheless, the firm admitted to five serious citations (reduced from six) and a fine of $12,600 (reduced from $16,800) after an informal settlement with OSHA. Semanderes said those citations did not involve L’Hereaux but stemmed from other issues uncovered during the investigation into his death.

Previous Citation

OSHA also issued Odyssey a single serious citation in August on the Deer Isle project for allegedly transporting a crew of four in the back of a pickup truck. OSHA said that the crew was taken to and from the worksite in the truck when they should have been seated. Semanderes disputed the accusation and said the truck traveled only 15 mph.

That citation, and an accompanying proposed penalty of $1,500, are pending.

“They were experienced painters,” said Semanderes. “We are a safe company. We’ve been a safe company.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Fall protection; Protective coatings

Comment from Otis Hale, (12/13/2010, 9:01 AM)

Bridge painting is inherently some of the most dangerous work in the world, and downrigging always has the potential to kill you. To lose a man per year is somewhat extreme, though. Any guy ignorant enough to blast through his own rigging was never trained properly.

Comment from Tom Latorre, (12/13/2010, 9:31 AM)

I agree with the dangers of bridge painting projects but I knew Mike & he was not ignorant. Accidents do happen. I wish for his sake & the sake of his family he would have been tied off.

Comment from carlos rosales, (12/13/2010, 10:14 AM)

It doesn't take much, but if you have a harness on, hook it. Unfortunately in our business, "IT ONLY TAKES ONCE." Mask, filters, harness, lanyards and gloves are cheaper than coffins.

Comment from mark WILECZEK, (12/13/2010, 11:03 AM)

We work in a dangerous industry with the potential for injury is always present.Odyssey needs to do some soul searching and examine it's own safety training and management commitment to safety if it expects to survive as a company in this industry.

Comment from bruce loudon, (12/13/2010, 3:44 PM)

Having been in this business for 30 years at all levels from mechanic to project management, I have seen instances time after time where one lapse in judgement has ended with serious consequences. Injury and death cannot be tolerated. Companies and supervisors need to be pro-active and progressive. A job safety analysis and serious consequences for repeat safety violators has to be the life-blood of any competent contractor.

Comment from DANIEL COSTANTINI, (12/13/2010, 3:49 PM)

I have worked for Odyssey, Stavro is extremely safety conscious and gives a worker what ever is necessary to perform any task safely. he is probably the safest contractor i have worked for hands down. The worker i am certain had not tied off and you can only lead the horse to water. Our business is tough yet it is on the man to use the equipment.

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