Federal authorities are investigating the death of a worker who fell from a railway bridge in Florida this week while performing repairs.
Peter Jerome Michnick, 42, was working Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 14) on the Florida East Coast Railway bridge at Jacksonville when he fell and apparently struck his head on metal, then tumbled into the St. Johns River below, police said.
|The downtown Jacksonville railway trestle runs parallel to the Acosta Bridge.|
Michnick disappeared under the water for about five minutes. Meanwhile, two co-workers jumped in after Michnick but were unable to reach him, police told firstcoastnews.com.
A passing boater happened to see all three men in the water and picked them up. Michnick was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Michnick worked for Osmose Railroad Services Inc., of Madison, WI, which was rehabbing the bridge under contract with FECR. It was not clear if Michnick was wearing any kind of fall protection or flotation device.
Osmose was cited for fall-protection and working-over-water violations less than a year ago on another job.
The Federal Railroad Administration, which has jurisdiction over all railroad accidents, is investigating the incident and had two representatives at the scene Wednesday, said spokesman Rob Kulat.
FRA investigations may take up to nine months, and the agency does not provide any information until the investigation is complete.
Fall Alert Issued
A rash of deaths similar to Michnick’s prompted FRA to issue a Safety Alert in November to bridge workers, contractors and subcontractors about the dangers of working on such sites without fall protection.
The alert followed two falls—one fatal—by workers from railroad bridges in 2011. Another similar fall occurred in 2008.
Kmusser / Creative Commons
|The accident occurred at the northern tip of the Florida East Coast Railway.|
In all three cases, FRA noted, the worker “was not wearing a personal fall arrest system and fell when stepping on an unsecured walkway or platform grating. The responsible railroads, contractors and subcontractors had also not erected a safety net system. Furthermore, in each instance, the unsecured grating is known or presumed to have flipped or tipped as it was found to have fallen along with the worker.”
The fatal incident occurred five days after the worker had noted unsecured grating on the site, and 15 minutes after a safety meeting about slip and trip hazards, FRA said.
‘They Heard a Thump’
The Jacksonville project involves replacing metal plates between the tracks and the bridge structure. Work on the trestle, which parallels the Acosta Bridge, began Jan. 13 and is to be completed by March 24.
Osmose owner Harry Holekamp told Jacksonville.com that Michnick was a boom truck operator from Michigan. He had been working from the bed of a large boom truck used to lift bridge cross-members, said Holekamp.
The other five members of Michnick’s crew did not see him fall, Holekamp told the website. "They heard a thump," said Holekamp
He said Michnick had been with the company for about a year and was a good employee. He was married and lived in Carney, Mich. "We're very distraught here," Holekamp told the website.
The Florida East Coast Railway, a 351-mile freight rail system, has worked with Osmose on another project, FECR EVP Husein Cumber said Wednesday. Cumber declined to discuss the contractor’s prior work for the railway.
Osmose was cited in May 2011 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for two serious lead-related safety violations. Both were later reduced to “Other than Serious” violations, and the $1,500 fine was reduced to $1,000.
At the same time, Osmose was cited for two serious health violations related to working over water and fall protection, and OSHA proposed a fine of $2,850. However, both violations were later deleted without explanation and the fine withdrawn, according to OSHA records.
Holekamp did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.