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Painter Drowns after 5 Fall from Bridge

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

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Emergency response crews were called to perform a water rescue after five painting contractors fell into the water from a bridge in Kingsbury, NY. One worker did not survive.

A contracting crew working for the New York State Department of Transportation was reportedly painting the Smiths Basin Bridge on Route 149, about 50 miles north of Albany, when a work platform underneath it failed around 11:30 a.m. Friday (Nov. 4), spilling five workers into the Champlain Canal.

At least four other workers remained on the platform and were able to call 911 immediately, the Glen Falls Post-Star reported.

First responders pulled four of the workers from the water shortly after arrival, but the fifth, later identified as Rahssan Smith, 41, of Albany, NY, remained missing for approximately 90 minutes.

Divers found his body in an area directly beneath the bridge at approximately 1 p.m., the local NBC affiliate reported.

Platform Failure and Rescue

According to reports, the painters were employed by bridge preservation firm P.S. Bruckel Inc. of Avon, NY. The crew was working underneath the bridge from a scaffold platform secured to the structure by ropes and cables. One cable is believed to have broken, causing the platform to list suddenly, sending the workers into the canal.

Emergency responders were dispatched from three towns, along with dive teams from the State Police and the South Glens Falls Fire Department. Washington County Director of Public Safety Glen Gosnell told the Post-Star that the first of the emergency responders was on site within two minutes of the 911 call.

The four painters pulled from the water were transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. One reportedly suffered a chest injury from the fall, and the other three were being treated for exposure, according to Gosnell.

Their identities have not been released.

Recovery Efforts

Dive teams continued to search for Smith in what was described as murky, 46-degree water, while a helicopter looked for any sign of him from above. Divers indicated they had to feel their way through the water because of the poor visibility conditions. However, Smith’s body was located and recovered from the bottom of the canal at 12:58 p.m., Washington County Undersheriff John Winchell said.

“We wish there was a better outcome,” he added.

“There was no resuscitation,” he told Time Warner Cable News. “He had been in the water for well over an hour at that point.”

The dive teams reported that there was very little current in the water, and Smith was located in a spot directly under where the men fell in. The water depth is said to be only 10 feet deep in that area.

Moreover, two divers anonymously told the Post-Star that they believe it was likely Smith could not swim, that his muscular build hindered natural buoyancy, and that he may have been wearing steel-toed boots.

An autopsy will be performed to determine whether Smith died from drowning or from the fall.

Investigations Underway

OSHA inspectors had reportedly arrived Friday afternoon to begin an investigation.

NYSDOT spokesman Bryan Viggiani told PaintSquare News no additional information was available as of deadline (Nov. 7), but the agency is working with local and federal officials to determine what led to the accident.

“It's a tough day for the agency," Viggiani said. “Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals here.”

A spokesperson for P.S. Bruckel declined to share any additional information at this time.


Tagged categories: Access; Accidents; Bridges; Contractors; Department of Transportation (DOT); Fatalities; Government contracts; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Scaffolding; Work platform

Comment from otis wayne Hale, (11/8/2016, 4:06 AM)

May you rest in peace, brother.

Comment from Osiris Mosley, (11/8/2016, 5:49 AM)

Very sad news. Things like this could be prevented if owners did things right instead of cutting vital corners for the sake of cutting costs. Lives are more important than money!

Comment from Joe Hunsbarger, (11/8/2016, 8:14 AM)

I know for a fact that corners were not cut to save costs. It was a tragic mistake on someone's part but surely not for the lack of having safety equipment. Lets let people grieve instead of playing the blame game. It will all come out I'm sure.

Comment from Fred Wittenberg, (11/8/2016, 7:21 PM)

It's been years since I was involved with bridge work over water, but isn't OSHA specific on this? Besides any barriers or tethering, I believe that someone must be in a skiff below in order to rescue any worker falling in?

Comment from paul graham, (11/9/2016, 7:07 AM)

Without a doubt if a certified safety watch was below,that gentleman would be here today.These are preventable incidents with a proper safety plan and equipment.

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