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OSHA Fines Contractor for Bridge Fire

Thursday, January 5, 2017

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Federal officials have concluded their investigation into September’s fire on Pittsburgh’s Liberty Bridge, issuing a citation with proposed fines of more than $11,000 to the contractor that was performing work on the bridge at the time.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a citation on Dec. 28 to Joseph B. Fay Co., of Tarentum, PA, based on an inspection in the days after the fire, and subsequent inspections of the site. The two violations, classified as “serious,” carry a proposed fine of $11,224.

Liberty Bridge after fire
Images: Technology Publishing Co.

Pittsburgh's Liberty Bridge remained closed for 24 days while engineers worked out a solution to major damage done to a 30-foot compression chord, which had buckled due to the heat of the fire.

Crews from Joseph B. Fay were working on the 89-year-old bridge, which reportedly carries 54,000 vehicles into and out of Downtown Pittsburgh each day, when a fire sparked by a welder spread to a tarp. The bridge remained closed for 24 days while engineers worked out a solution to major damage done to a 30-foot compression chord, which had buckled due to the heat of the fire.

OSHA: Precautions Not Taken

The OSHA citation says that corrugated piping on the job site was not properly moved or protected per workplace safety rules. The corrugated piping caught fire during the cutting of steel on the worksite, leading to the larger tarp fire. The monetary fine stems from this violation.

Liberty Bridge after fire

“A fire watch stationed on the middle platform did not adequately protect all areas where potential fire hazards exist,” the OSHA citation says.

OSHA also includes a second, related violation, alleging that proper fire prevention precautions were not taken at the cutting site. “A fire watch stationed on the middle platform did not adequately protect all areas where potential fire hazards exist,” the citation says. There is no fine related to this violation.

Representatives of Joseph B. Fay and parent company i+iconUSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday (Jan. 4).

Other Fines

The Pennsylvania State Department of Transportation issued fines of more than $3 million to Joseph B. Fay for the fire and the resulting closure of the bridge in September. Local authorities also sent Fay a citation alleging the company did not have current “hot work” permits at the time of the fire, a charge the contractor denied at the time.

The Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire alleged that the company did not have a proper fire watch and did not have appropriate extinguishers on hand the day of the fire.

“We had fire watch on the bridge throughout our cutting operations and during the incident, as well as fire extinguishers and water hoses,” Joseph B. Fay said in a statement reported by local media at the time.

Contractor Can Contest

Both OSHA violations are listed as having been corrected during the inspections that uncovered them. Fay has a right to contest the citation within 15 working days of its issuance.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Contractors; Fire; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrastructure; North America; OSHA; Safety; Violations

Comment from john kern, (1/5/2017, 9:27 AM)

Wow....I wonder if 11K even covers the cost of time and travel for the OSHA folks. It seems as tax payers we should have fines that at least cover the inspection, evaluations and report writing process. I understand that the contractor is not at fault until the process is finalized, however, when OSHA responds to this type of situation I feel the prime contractor should cover their costs for the inspection, evaluation and final disposition report of the incident whether responsible or not.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (1/5/2017, 11:16 AM)

I'll have to disagree with you there, John. If you want companies to carry the burden of the investigation (guilty or not), it's akin to asking a person to cover the cost of a police investigation. While I agree that the fines should be higher (both to actually deter irresponsible actions and to better cover the administration of the rules), you'd open the door to inspectors showing up with an invoice and a huge potential for abuse. Could you see a police officer pulling you over to let you know you have a tail light out, letting you go with a warning to get it fixed and a bill (not a fine) for $500?

Comment from MICHAEL DEATON, (1/5/2017, 1:26 PM)

You can probably bet that the fire watch was either non existent or doing something other than fire watching. Otherwise, that fire would have been able to be extinguished at its early stage.

Comment from john kern, (1/6/2017, 6:35 PM)

Mr Halliwell, You obviously missed the point. If OSHA is called to a site to investigate an issue, more times than not it is typically a major issue and not a tail light out. You obviously haven't driven much in the south as police (an enforcement agency) often give tickets (with a fine) for improper equipment. As you know you can pay the fine as set, or face the judge. OSHA on the other hand is a regulatory (Judge and jury) agency and not a police enforcement agency. The officer gives a ticket to which you can say yes or no, but OSHA gives you the fine. They place a fine to which you can appeal - but you are typicaly still guilty without admitting guilt. So lets let OSHA do their job, and lets make the contractors and the industries in this glorious nation pay for themselves to be regulated. OSHA should set the burden of their costs on the industry of the US and not be subsidized by Joe the taxpayer. Just a thought.....maybe each company that comes into existence should be dealt a yearly bill, based on their industry's share of required enforcement on a level of the previously years costs. i.e, lets say people between the age of 70 to 75 pay half attention to their tail lights so that their tail lights are out twice as often as the 40 to 45 folks, then the 70 - 75 folks should pay twice the fine. With the highest level of respect and appreciation for your thoughts - jk

Comment from M. Halliwell, (1/9/2017, 12:45 PM)

John, perhaps your point wasn't initially clear. You stated "I feel the prime contractor should cover their costs for the inspection, evaluation and final disposition report of the incident whether responsible or not." To have a contractor cover the cost of an inspection and evaluation (the very first things you list, which can happen with or without an incident) would be like having a police officer give you an invoice for pulling you over (guilty or not). That analogy holds for how you said it. If you turned it around to: "where there is an incident, then the contractor should pay for the inspection, evaluation and...." (which could also be read into your statement) then I agree with you. Industry funding would be great; unfortunately, with how few inspectors there are, and how few job sites are inspected, you'll never get industry on side with your proposal. There will be countless lined up to say "I've never seen an inspector at my job site so why am I paying a fee for it?" I agree 100% that OSHA should be better able to make cost recovery from those who don't abide the regulations...but we also need to get it to the point where a $100,000 list of citations isn't settled for $6,000 on appeal and those with court ordered consequences can't ignore them.

Comment from Dominic Motes, (1/11/2017, 2:58 PM)

OMG John, all due respect, I do not know where to start. Lets assume OSHA was to charge for a visit, and they find the company is acting within the standards and they choose not to write the company a citation do they still send a bill for the time to inspect? What if the employee was at fault and not following the company policy does the employee receive the fine and the invoice for the inspection? OSHA's job isn't to look out for the well being of the employer but the employee, so shouldn't the employee be the one footing the bill. That would mean when OSHA showed up to inspect a site, all of the employees would have to pay that bill regardless if any citations were written. FYI fines are on the rise. OSHA may reduce fines IF and ONLY IF the employer can demonstrate that they have corrected the issue. This depends on the severity of the citation, and if it is a repeat violation. Sometimes the cost to correct the citation is more than the citation. OSHA would rather see that money spent to correct the problem than to the problem is ongoing and will result in more fines, and possibly an injured or killed worker. Just saying

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (1/13/2017, 1:26 PM)

Fires represent a complete breakdown of procedures and precautions.

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