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Painters Injured in Bridge Worksite Fall

Friday, February 10, 2017

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Two workers were injured Wednesday morning (Feb. 8) on a bridge-painting worksite in Portland, Oregon.

The names and conditions of the two employees, who work for Abhe and Svoboda Inc., have not been released as of press time Thursday (Feb. 9), but local news reports relate that the workers suffered “serious” injuries in the incident. Both were reported to have been conscious upon being rescued by Portland Fire & Rescue.

Jordan, Minnesota-based Abhe and Svoboda issued a statement Thursday evening that reads in part, "We can confirm for you at this time that two of our employees have been injured. We are doing everything possible to ensure they are getting the best medical assistance available. Their conditions are improving and their recovery is our top concern."

The contractor said it was cooperating with all investigations and that its employees are continuing to assess the situation. Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed that it is conducting an investigation.

Fall Between Platforms

Don Hamilton of the Oregon Department of Transportation told PaintSquare News that one worker fell from a platform beneath the bridge deck, striking another worker on a lower deck, about 20 feet below.

Firefighters rescued the pair using an aerial platform. Local news sources indicate that the two workers involved may be father and son.

Abhe and Svoboda is currently in the midst of a two-year blasting and repainting project on the bridge, which had structural work performed in 2014. According to ODOT, the entire project, including structural work, is expected to cost between $30 million and $40 million, funded by federal and state money.

Union Questions Safety

The cause of Wednesday’s fall has not been determined yet, but some are questioning the safety of the worksite. The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council #5 issued a press release Thursday alleging that “a report was filed with OSHA just a week prior to the accident by a union representative compelling OSHA to investigate.”

“In order to hasten the completion, supervisors have instructed workers to ignore specifications of the painting process,” the union contends.

Abhe and Svoboda is a non-union contractor.

A worker from the site, Omar Rubi, who is also associated with IUPAT, told PaintSquare News that he had concerns about the condition of the scaffolding, claiming that manholes were not sufficiently covered.

Rubi says he has worked on the site for about seven months, but was not on the site the morning of the fall.

The statement from Abhe and Svoboda notes, "Employees are encouraged to report unsafe conditions. We correct unsafe conditions or practices as they become known. Our safety statistics are among the best in the painting and paper hanging industry."

Past Safety Violations

The contractor, which works nationwide, has been cited before on safety violations.

Ahbe and Svoboda paid $27,750 in fines to OSHA in 2013, stemming from an inspection at a Washington state bridge worksite in 2011. That inspection resulted in 33 violations, later reduced to 24, related to lead exposure, worksite sanitation and power tools. Another inspection at the same site resulted in 11 violations, on regulations including those related to fall protection.

The firm has faced OSHA violations five other times in the past decade.

Editor's note: This story was one of our most popular of 2017, and appeared in our Readers' Choice issue on Dec. 28. Since its original publication, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued contractor Abhe & Svoboda fines related to the incident.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Fall protection; Government contracts; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Painting Contractors

Comment from MICHAEL DEATON, (2/10/2017, 9:14 AM)

Godspeed the recovery of these 2 men. As we all know, the outcome of this particular incident usually results in fatalities. The man above wasn't for them yet. I'm sure more details will emerge concerning the fall but we may never hear about them.

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (2/10/2017, 9:18 AM)

The fall itself is evidence that a viable fall protection program has not been implemented by Management unless the fall was dileberate.

Comment from MARIUS SPADA, (2/10/2017, 12:25 PM)

Tomas vanhouser ... I disagree with you ... to my knowledge, Abhe&svoda has an extremely strict hiring process were all workers are trained on fall protection & safety before they set foot on a bridge... it's a 10 day process.. unlike other contractors who hire YA on the spot sends ya on the bridge than pulls ya off a couple weeks later for all ur training & Certs.. you can train ur workers as much as you want .. but it's up to them to apply the safety for their own benefit...

Comment from Karin Wilson, (2/10/2017, 10:06 PM)

10 Days of training? I spent my 1st yr. of apprenticeship just on Safety. Before ever stepping out on a platform. Followed by 6000 hrs. of "OTJ Training" for Journeyman status. Now I stay current and safe with yearly (15) yrs.) training and upgrade classes.Safety is a continuous learning experience.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (2/13/2017, 11:36 AM)

Karin, I agree that safety is a combination of ongoing training and experience over the years....but I think the point Marius is trying to make is that A&S send their "new recruits" for a pretty substantial bit of safety training upon hire, before sending them out into the field (i.e. they try to get forks off to a good start) while others hire folks off the street and put them immediately out on the site, getting their safety training later. Now as for Thomas' assertion that there wasn't a viable fall protection program in place....well, that's for the inspector to determine. I've known lots of sites with stringent programs where people have been hurt in those "Aww, why'll just take a sec" moments.

Comment from MARIUS SPADA, (2/13/2017, 1:25 PM)

Thank you Karin... that was the point I was trying to make... ??????

Comment from MICHAEL DEATON, (2/13/2017, 6:25 PM)

You guys are all correct and with great points proven. The bottom line is, you can have all of the safety training and programs in place but when a man walks into the containment, if someone is not there enforcing safety & if the personnel doesn't care enough to stay hooked up for their own safety, even though nobody is looking, then you are going to continue seeing these types of situations. Sometime you have to make examples out of people. Hit them in the pocket or terminate them. I've been on projects where 1 strike and your out. We would rather walk you out now than carry you out on a stretcher later.

Comment from Robert Stubblefield , (2/17/2017, 12:25 AM)

First of all, ny prayers to the injured and their families. That said, I worked for Abhe & Svoboda for around 5 years off and on and as opposed to all other contractors I worked for I feltthat they really had their priorities straight. We had daily safety meetings where we were encouraged to participate in our safety plan. Therefore we had a responsibility to ourselves and everyone on the job site to report safety violations on a daily basis. Every time a concern was addressed I saw instant action towards a solution. Once the solution was integrated, we would again cover the issue in the next safety meeting to ensure ALL concerns were addressed. In my experience the training was always above and beyond what other companies provide, and always relevant to the job at hand. I don't hold any bad feelings for the union, but if the employees don't report safety issues through the proper channels that are provided daily, they can't be dealt with. It seems the Union employee who has been talking to the press was deliberately withholding information from the site coordinators, but was reporting them to his representatives at the union. I could be wrong, but in my experience, safety was ALWAYS the main priority. We probably all know of contractors who place profit over the safety of their employees, but as for my experience, ASI was not one of them. I always had comprehensive and dynamic training sessions throughout the projects. Whether it be endangered species training to protect the environment while working for EBMUD, or vehicle safety when working on highways in Mendocino, we were always ready for the job ahead and we probably all know that this is not always tell case with contractors. Before ever stepping foot on any access platforms or scaffolding, we were ALL well versed in safe construction and use of the equipment. We would take the time to check every pin, nut, and bolt and we're encouraged to do so. The contractor reled on us to be honest about our experience, but took no chances as I've seen with other contractors. Today partially because of my training at ASI I see safety as everyone's job and I know that we all have to work together to make a job site safe. They truly put safety in the hands of each person on the job and everyone's opinion was valued and all concerns were considered. Also, not to discount anyone's abilities, but sometimes when commercial and residential painters are assigned to industrial jobs, the scope of their abilities can be tested. Industrial jobs require a whole new level of requirements for an employee and this can be problematic for both employees and employers. A bad habit on a commercial or residential job can be fatal on an industrial job. For example while working for a different comtractor, I had to walk a kid off the job for not fastening safety chains on a stairwell after warning him for the umpteenth time. He relayed to me that in commercial jobs, he wasn't used to stairs being such a danger and was trying to hurry and get the job done. His hard work was endearing, but as Michael Deaton said, I would rather walk him off today than carry him or someone else off tomorrow. Simply put, safety is everyone's job and when I see the division between ASI and the union in the news at the level it's at it concerns me. They have to be allowed to build teams from their employees and it reminds me that no matter how much training is provided we still must rely on each other and we are all culpable for our own safety. All we can do is pray for the injured and learn from the mistakes made, but we cannot pit employees against a company or who suffers?

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