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Design Blamed in Fatal Bridge Collapses

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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RALEIGH, NC—Flaws in the design of several bridge girders led to the collapse of two pedestrian bridges under construction at Wake Technical Community College, investigators concluded.

The spans collapsed within hours of each other and killed one worker in November.

The bridges were doomed by engineered design flaws associated with several notches in their supporting structures, the North Carolina Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Division announced Friday (May 15).

The agency determined that Stewart Engineering Inc. should have been aware of the design flaws. The Raleigh, NC-based firm had been hired to prepare shop drawings for the bridge,

Wake Tech bridge collapse
Screen grab via

Two pedestrian bridges under construction at Wake Tech collapsed because of design flaws associated with notches in the glulam girders, North Carolina OSHA determined.

"[E]ngineering design deficiencies contributed to the collapse of both pedestrian bridges," OSHNC concluded.

Deadly Dual Collapses

The first bridge collapsed as workers were pouring concrete in the morning of Nov. 13, 2014, killing Jose Luis Rosales-Nava, 42, a father of three, and injuring four others.

The 140-foot-long span dropped about 40 feet to the ground, Jonathan Olson, Wake County EMS Operations Chief, said at the time. Some workers managed to escape; the others were scattered underneath.

Hours later, a second bridge collapsed at the college. No injuries were reported in the second incident, which occurred at night, and no one was at the site when the bridge went down.

The collapse was discovered the next morning when crews arrived for work.

In both cases, the center span gave way.

The victims were working for J.O. Concrete Services in Raleigh, a subcontractor for Skanska USA Buildings, the general contractor for the project.

Reports after the initial accident said J.O. Concrete had hired the workers for the day from Central Concrete of N.C. Inc., a subcontractor for Skanska.

OSHNC was not certain about the relationship between Central Concrete, J.O. Concrete and Skanska, spokesman Neal O'Briant said in an email Monday (May 18).

That information may be part of a larger case file, which will be available later, he added.

However, he did confirm that the injured workers and Rosales-Nava were employed by J.O. Concrete.

A person who answered the phone Monday for J.O. Concrete declined to comment.

OSHNC bridge fatality
Family via

Jose Luis Rosales-Nava, a father of three, was killed when the first bridge collapsed. Four other workers were injured.

The bridges are part of a $47.5 million expansion project at the north Raleigh campus of Wake Tech that includes an 87,000-square-foot instructional building and a 782-space parking deck. Completion is set for this fall.

Glulam Girders

The investigation found that notches in the girders were poorly designed, preventing the bridges from being able to hold the weight of the structures.

The girders were made of glulam, a glued laminated timber that, pound for pound, is stronger than steel and has greater strength and stiffness than comparably sized dimensional lumber, according to the Engineered Wood Association.

A full investigative report has not been released, but the state's findings were sent to Stewart Engineering, Skanska USA Buildings and J.O. Concrete Services Inc.

Engineers Eyed

Although OSHNC determined the fatality and injuries "were a direct result of the collapse of bridge #1," the agency won't be recommending any citations "due to the lack of any applicable occupational safety and health standards or labor laws/administrative codes that address bridge design."

Additionally, the agency couldn't determine that Stewart exposed any of its own employees to hazardous conditions and was therefore unable to issue citations under the state's General Duty Clause.

However, OSHNC did pass its findings on to the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors, which has now started its own investigation into the collapses.

The state empowers the board to grant licenses to engineers and discipline them.

Stewart Engineering

Although OSHNC determined the fatality and injuries "were a direct result of the collapse of bridge #1," the agency won't be recommending any citations "due to the lack of any applicable occupational safety and health standards or labor laws/administrative codes that address bridge design."

The board's investigators will determine if any penalties are appropriate. Maximum punishments are a $5,000 fine and license revocation.

Companies Keeping Mum

Skanska spokesperson Pamela Monastra confirmed that the company had received a letter indicating no citations would be issued.

"Clearly we are still saddened by this accident. We work hard to have a safe work place," Monastra said in an email Monday (May 18).

"Beyond that, I simply cannot comment on the report until such time we receive it and are able to review it," Monastra said.

Mary Heath, spokesperson for Stewart, told news outlets that the company "cooperated fully with the OSHA investigation and is committed to continue in that regard with other investiations.

"Because of ongoing investigations, it is not appropriate for us to discuss this matter publicly at this time. We continue to assist and work earnestly with all the involved parties to move the process forward."


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Colleges and Universities; Design; Engineers; Fatalities; Girder; Health & Safety; North America; OSHA

Comment from Mark Puckett, (5/19/2015, 4:05 PM)

professional liability insurance premiums will be far worse then any fines

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