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Companies at Odds over Bridge Death

Monday, July 27, 2015

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Less than a day after a man died while performing abrasive blasting work on a Mississippi River bridge, one of the companies involved asked a federal judge to rule it is not liable.

Central Contracting & Marine, of Festus, MO, said July 17 that it and its boat, the "Danny Bradford," did not cause the death of 24-year-old James Pigue, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Pigue fell to his death when the top of the towboat struck the scaffolding on which he was working on July 16.

The victim was employed by Thomas Industrial Coatings Inc., of Peveley, MO, which was performing abrasive blasting on the Eads Bridge in St. Louis at the time of the incident, the company said in an emailed statement.

Photos courtesy KSDK

A 24-year-old man was killed while working with an abrasive blasting team after a towboat struck the scaffolding next to the Eads Bridge on which he was standing.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened an investigation into the incident, which is standard practice with any workplace fatality.

At Odds over Fault

A U.S. Coast Guard official said that the pilot of the towboat knew he was not on the correct course when he hit the scaffolding, which partially tore away, according to the Post-Dispatch. And Don Thomas, who founded Thomas Industrial Coatings, told the newspaper that the boat—which had two barges of coal in tow—“was not in the river channel.”

But the towboat company said that Thomas’s company and MetroLink, which owns the bridge, created a navigational hazard.

Central Coatings & Marine said in its court filings that the fatality either was the result of flooding or because the painting contractor decided to suspend the scaffolding under the bridge’s center span, said the Post-Dispatch.

The company also said Pigue was not wearing a tethered safety harness when he fell to the deck of the towboat.

Todd Cook, who is in charge of safety for Thomas, said in an email sent July 21 that Pigue was “killed while standing on the platform in a Class 1A containment vacuuming steel grit abrasive.

“Several other Thomas Industrial Coatings Inc. employees were performing abrasive blasting work inside the same containment and were not injured,” said Cook. “We are fully cooperating in the ongoing investigations of the incident.”

Previous Fatalities

The July 16 death was not the first for Thomas.

According to OSHA’s website, three employees died in separate incidents in 2006. OSHA cited the company each time.

The towboat company—Central Contracting & Marine—and the painting company—Thomas Industrial Coatings—disagree about which company created the hazard that caused the incident.

Rhonda Burke, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, told the Post-Dispatch that it may be too early to say if the July 16 victim was wearing proper protective equipment, but he would have been required to have water safety equipment, such as a life vest.

Thomas told the Post-Dispatch that his company has not had any serious violations since 2006.

“I’m not going to talk about my history,” he said.

The Eads Bridge Renovation

The Eads Bridge has been undergoing a major renovation project for the past few years. Named for the architect who designed it, the Eads Bridge opened in 1874 and was one of the first bridges to cross the Mississippi River.

Today, the bridge carries vehicles and the MetroLink trains. The total cost of replacing support steel, track and rail ties; patching masonry; performing abrasive blasting; and repainting the structural steel now carries a price tag of $40.2 million, according to a Dec. 10, 2014, article in the Post-Dispatch.

As a result of its groundbreaking technology at the time, the structural steel contained an unknown alloy and unique geometry that slowed down and increased the original estimated cost of the rehabilitation project.

The north side of the bridge was completed in December 2014, and the south side—where the fatality occurred—is expected to be completed in 2016.


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Bridges; Bridges; Corrosion protection; Fall protection; Fatalities; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Marine; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Protective Coatings; Rail; Railcars; Roads/Highways; Scaffolding; Steel

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