Federal authorities are investigating the collapse of a trench during the repair of a newly built bridge in Allentown, PA, that killed one worker and injured another.
Michael Wilson, 20, of Coatesville, PA, died after the walls of the 6-foot-deep trench along the Linden Street Bridge collapsed at 8:40 a.m. EST Tuesday (Jan. 4) and partially buried him under huge chunks of concrete.
Wilson’s co-worker and best friend, Otis Smother III, 21, also of Coatesville, was freed from the rubble within an hour and was recovering at an area hospital from bruises and a shoulder injury.
‘Together at the End’
The men worked for construction contractor J.D. Eckman Inc., of Atglen, PA, a family-owned company founded in 1945. The company built the bridge, which opened in April 2009, and was making repairs at the time of the accident.
The company did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
Wilson’s parents, Rick and Shirley Wilson, told a local television station that the men had been best friends since seventh grade and had started work for Eckman on the same day.
“They were together at the end,” Shirley Wilson said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident, said Jane Kulp, director of OSHA’s Allentown office. “The intent is to determine what happened,” she said, noting that OSHA has up to six months to complete its investigation.
Allentown Assistant Fire Chief Lee Laubach told reporters that the ground had caved in, but authorities do not know why.
New Bridge Repair
At the time of the collapse, the men were working to replace an electrical and communications duct bank on the west side of the bridge, said Lehigh County Capital Projects Director Glenn D. Solt.
“The duct installations they did were not proper according to specifications, so they had to come back out and redo them,” Solt said.
The local utility company discovered the problem shortly after the bridge opened, Solt said. “When the utility company went to use them, they weren’t adequate,” he said.
Eckman repaired the east side of the bridge in December, he said.
Solt said that the bridge project, awarded as a low bid, was Eckman’s first for the county and that construction had proceeded with “no significant glitches.”
J.D. Eckman has a record of safety violations with OSHA. The agency has made 58 visits to Eckman work sites since 2001, all but five of them stemming from an OSHA enforcement program that selects various companies or industries for stepped-up inspections. (The other inspections were the result of referrals or complaints.)
Kulp could not say why Eckman’s sites had been chosen for inspection seven times in 2010, 14 times in 2009, eight times in 2008, and several dozen times before that.
Four of the 2009 inspections resulted in citations for violations, as did three inspections in 2008. Eckman was fined a total of about $18,500 for 11 violations, most of them serious. Several violations related to fall protection violations during bridge projects.