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Bridge Work Resumes after 4 Accidents

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

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Work has resumed on Connecticut’s Moses Wheeler Bridge replacement project—site of four recent safety mishaps—after construction was halted for a week while contractor employees attended safety classes.

Connecticut DOT (ConnDOT) suspended work on the $230 million project April 16, two days after a crane collapsed at the site, leaving a worker with broken ribs and a concussion.

 The Moses Wheeler Bridge, a Connecticut icon since it opened in 1958, is being completely replaced and widened.

 Connecticut DOT

The Moses Wheeler Bridge, a Connecticut icon since it opened in 1958, is being completely replaced and widened. The project has had four mishaps in recent months.

Before that, a crane toppled at the site on Jan. 25, damaging the area’s boardwalk marina; a 40-foot-tall column rebar cage collapsed Dec. 22; and a section of the highway was recently found to have been “severely undermined” by poor fill.

Work was allowed to resume Monday (April 23), however, under several conditions set by ConnDOT, Stephen DiGiovanna, Supervising Engineer, District 3 Construction, wrote in an email Tuesday (April 24).

‘Safety Shortcomings’

No one was seriously injured in the earlier incidents, but the series of mishaps was “of serious concern” to ConnDOT, Mark D. Rolfe, PE, District Engineer, wrote April 16 to Walsh Construction Co. and PCL Civil Constructors, the joint venture on the project.

“It is the Department’s opinion that these occurrences were entirely preventable and are not attributable to a series of random occurrences or anomalies,” Rolfe wrote. “Rather, we believe these incidents are indicative of a systemic problem and a weakness in the Walsh/PCL safety program on this project.”

Although it was “fortunate that no one was seriously injured, or worse,” Rolfe wrote, “luck is not a plan, particularly on a large, complex project like the Moses Wheeler Bridge reconstruction. Consequently, the Department demands immediate action from Walsh/PCL to remedy the safety shortcomings on this project.”

The letter ordered work suspended immediately and “until such time as Walsh/PCL is able to provide substantive proof of its commitment to improving safety on this project.” In addition, Rolfe demanded a meeting the next day for “candid discussion of the site safety issues.”

Worker Fatigue Questioned

Those issues include concerns over worker fatigue, Rolfe wrote.  The project is reportedly about six months ahead of schedule.

“In light of the accelerated work schedule, worker fatigue has become a concern,” Rolfe wrote. “There is an obvious carry-over to work-site safety.”

Aaron Tubbs, senior project manager for Walsh Construction Co., responded in a letter to Rolfe that the company did not consider worker fatigue an issue and that employees would continue to work 10 hours on weekdays and eight hours on Saturdays, The Connecticut Post reported.

The letter said the company did not believe employees were working excessive hours but would survey workers anonymously to get their feedback, the newspaper said. Chicago-based Walsh also planned to bring in additional staff from other cities to perform safety audits, the newspaper reported.

Safety Classes and Conditions

Walsh company officials agreed to have their employees attend safety classes conducted last week by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said a ConnDOT spokesman. “We think that is a prudent step, and we support it.’’

Thirty-one employees from Walsh and PCL attended OSHA's 30-hour Training for Construction, DiGiovanna said. He said ConnDOT had allowed construction to resume Monday under four conditions:

• The agency and WPCL will meet in about two weeks to review the status of several items in the contractor’s letter;

• WPCL must include a separate safety progress report in all future job site progress meetings;

• WPCL must submit formal reports regarding the January and April crane incidents, including “any and all findings by the crane manufacturer, OSHA, and WPCL Regional Safety Manager”; and

• WPCL must submit to ConnDOT “any and all reports” filed with OSHA or other regulators regarding project safety since the project began.

ConnDOT “has not changed its oversight of the project in any way,” DiGiovanna said.

Scope of Work

The project involves complete replacement of the bridge, which opened in 1958 and carries Interstate 95 over the Housatonic River between Milford and Stratford. The bridge carries about 135,000 vehicles daily. Emergency deck repairs were ordered during the summer of 2007 to keep the bridge operating until the replacement could be designed and constructed.

The project will replace and expand the existing bridge from 92 feet wide to 136 feet wide, while maintaining the existing six-lane highway and adding four full-width shoulders.

Completion is set for 2017.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Construction; Cranes; Health and safety; OSHA

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