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Contractor Fined in 2nd Bridge Death

Monday, October 31, 2011

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A Tennessee contractor is facing a new round of health and safety violations—its fourth case in six months—involving the death of a second worker on a massive bridge rehabilitation project.

Britton Bridge LLC, of Knoxville, is already contesting 11 Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) citations and a $16,750 fine in the death of a worker Jan. 25 on the $24.7 million Henley Bridge widening and renovation project.

 Henley Bridge

 Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia Commons

Undocumented workers were involved in both fatal accidents on the Henley Bridge this year, officials said. TOSHA said Spanish-speaking employees did not understand safety requirements.

That accident occurred just three weeks after work on the bridge project began; the TOSHA citations involved fall protection and personal protective equipment.

Now, TOSHA has issued two additional serious citations and $7,150 in fines against the company in the death May 24 of Solin Estrada Jimenez, 49, of Chattanooga, who was struck in the head by a chunk of concrete debris that had been knocked loose by a crane during demolition. The debris fell about 60 feet before hitting Jimenez, who was working on the project from a barge in the river.

Undocumented Workers

Both accidents involved undocumented workers, authorities said.

In the January case, foreman John Womac, 33, was fatally struck by a track hoe operated by an undocumented worker who was later arrested by federal immigration authorities, the Associated Press reported, quoting a memo by labor officials.

In the second case, the victim, Jimenez, was an undocumented Mexican immigrant who had been hired under the name Rodolfo Bustillos.

After Jimenez’s death, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement was reportedly looking into whether Britton had knowingly hired illegal immigrants. ICE did not respond Monday to an inquiry about that investigation. Britton told reporters that Jimenez had provided work papers in the name of Bustillos.

TDOT requires companies getting state contracts to sign a pledge saying they will not hire illegal workers.

Mike Rea, Britton Bridge’s safety director, declined to comment Monday (Oct. 31) on the cases.

Hispanic Workers ‘Did Not Fully Understand’

According to TOSHA documents, Britton has a bilingual trainer, “but the Hispanic speaking employees did not fully understand all the requirements of training and hazard identification.”

To the Inspect Report question “Does top management accept ultimate responsibility for safety and health in the organization?” OSHA’s inspector answered no. Management supplied written safety programs and site superintendents were responsible for day-to-day safety, but “a link between the two leadership groups for safety accountability was not evident,” the inspector wrote.

He also said the company “did not identify and isolate the hazard area” under the bridge demolition area and allowed debris to accumulate during demolition. OSHA found no documentation that procedures spelled out in the company Safety Manual were being followed.

Britton did hire a site safety manager to oversee the Henley Bridge project just before the second death, OSHA’s inspector reported.

Safety, Eligibility Reviewed

Work on the bridge was suspended for about two weeks after Jimenez died while the Tennessee Department of Transportation conducted safety reviews of the project, which began Jan. 3.

“We are committed to the safety of all workers on all of our transportation projects,” TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said at the time. “We feel confident that our safety staff has conducted a comprehensive review of the procedures in place and that construction work can safely resume at these sites.”

TDOT also said that it was temporarily disqualifying Britton Bridge and parent company Mountain States Contractors LLC from bidding on future state contracts and would review their eligibility for future contracts. TDOT did not respond Monday to an inquiry regarding the status of that review.

TDOT said it would have regional construction personnel and safety coordinators visit the site regularly to monitor conditions.

The agency has not said if the accidents or investigations would have any impact on the cost or length of the project, which is scheduled for completion in June 2013.

Other Cases

According to OSHA documents, Britton Bridge began operation in January 2010.

In November 2010, the company was cited for a serious violation of TOSHA’s Derricks & Cranes standard at a different work site and fined $5,400.

In April 2011, Britton was cited on the Henley Bridge project for a serious violation of noise exposure standards and fined $2,000.

Both of those cases remain open.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Construction; Fall protection; Fatalities; Health and safety; Personal protective equipment

Comment from Billy Russell, (11/1/2011, 6:39 AM)

This is sad but typical,TDOT needs to "wake up" it is my understanding that there is very little oversite by qualified inspectors on site in the entire state of TN regarding bridge projects,Safety,coatings inspection,enviormental,containment and certified payroll are just a few examples of a need for TDOT to be more "pro-active" instead of reactive,I find it unbelievable this company is still on site of this 24.7 million dollar job,(temporarily disqualifying) from bidding on future projects is nothing short of a "joke" TDOT needs to wake up NOW...

Comment from shane hirvi, (11/2/2011, 11:33 AM)

Tragic story my thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims. Billy, just once I would like to see you wait til after the dust settles before you blame an entire state for a jobsite accident. There are countless hardworking, intelligent men and women working for TDOT please don't disparage and demean all of them because of one,seemingly, lousy contractor.

Comment from Billy Russell, (11/2/2011, 3:02 PM)

I have first hand knowledge of a lack of coatings and enviormental inspection during Bridge rehabilitation projects in the state of TN,I personally observed a platform over water constructed of plywood by a contractor that was asked to leave another state close by for disregarding all abatement procedures in accordance with state and federal regulation as well as QP procedures,this contractor himself told me at the site when asked how he could get away with a wooden deck over water (home made) that there was no inspection in TN,no one looked at the blast prior to coating and no one monitored enviormentals at all,Sir I am entitled to an opinion and have the first hand experiance and knowledge of what really goes on in the field asking TDOT to be pro-Active instead of reactive is infact not blaming the entire state,a contractor can only be as good as the specification dictates and the person given the task of ensuring the specifications are followed, I in fact do inspect Bridges,in several states were safe guards are put in place to ensure that not only are the specifications met but that undocumented workers that do not understand SAFETY are not permitted....Evil can only flourish if good people do and say nothing.......

Comment from Earl Briggs, (11/2/2011, 11:08 PM)

This is just WRONG! It's sad to hear about any loss of life. The sercumstance behind these should never have happend.

Comment from Earl Briggs, (11/2/2011, 11:20 PM)

I take some reservation in saying this, but I've seen this too often. And let me be clear, no disrepect intended. How ever the hispanic labor has been embrased, be it by lack of communication, or eagerness to work. No questions asked. Be that as it may, communication is everything.

Comment from mark wileczek, (11/4/2011, 9:25 AM)

All accidents are preventable. the first fatality should have been the wake up call for this contractor,regardless of the fact that the worker was Hispanic. this is not China or India we do value workers lives and safety , my thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the deceased workers

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