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Report: Fires Went Unreported on PA Bridge

Friday, February 24, 2017

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Documents from last fall’s federal investigation indicate that workers on Pittsburgh’s Liberty Bridge sparked two minor fires that went unreported in the days before September’s blaze that shut down the major city bridge.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which acquired the Occupational Safety and Health Administration documents through the Freedom of Information Act, the crew from Joseph B. Fay Co. also reassigned a worker who had been watching for fires on the lower deck, just hours before the major blaze broke out. The new information comes from interviews conducted with employees during OSHA’s investigation.

Traffic Shutdown, Structural Damage

The Sept. 2 fire shut down the bridge for 24 days, and led to major structural damage. OSHA originally issued a proposed fine of $11,224 to Fay, but the fine was later reduced to $7,500, according to OSHA’s enforcement database.

Liberty Bridge damage
Images: Technology Publishing Co.

The Sept. 2 fire shut down the bridge for 24 days, and led to major structural damage.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which issued the contract for the Liberty Bridge renovation project, issued fines of more than $3 million for damage to the bridge and traffic closures.

The blaze began when fire sparked by a welder spread to a tarp. The most notable damage was sustained by a 30-foot compression chord, which had buckled due to the heat of the fire.

According to the Post-Gazette report, employee interviews indicate that two small fires on the lower deck—one on Aug. 30 and one on Sept. 1—went unreported to Fay safety coordinators and PennDOT. A supervisor temporarily placed an employee on fire watch on the lower deck after those incidents, the report says, but reassigned the worker before the Sept. 2 fire. In general on the site, a fire watch on the upper deck was also responsible for watching the lower deck, the paper reports.

Contractor Statement

Tarentum, Pennsylvania-based Fay issued a statement in the wake of the newly released documents that reads: “Individual OSHA interviews are a portion of an investigation and need to be taken in context with all the findings. The final determination was based on the entirety of information collected and verified by the compliance officer.

Liberty Bridge damage

In October, local media reported that the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire issued a citation to Fay for failing to have a permit on file to do “hot work” such as the torch operations that sparked the fires.

“The OSHA investigation is closed. The bridge was reopened and safe to traffic months ago and not one person was injured during the entire incident. Modifications have been made to procedures to assure no future situations occur.”

‘Hot Work’ Permit

In October, local media reported that the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire issued a citation to Fay for failing to have a permit on file to do “hot work” such as the torch operations that sparked the fires. At the time, Fay officials said they had not received the citation, and that they believed they had all of the appropriate permits.

Fay did not address an inquiry from PaintSquare News Thursday (Feb. 23) as to whether that citation was eventually received and paid.

Bridge History

Fay was awarded the $85 million Liberty Bridge rehabilitation contract in 2015, with the Avalotis Corporation, of Verona, Pennsylvania, designated as subcontractor for the coating work on the project.

The bridge, built in 1928, is a 2,663-foot-long cantilever viaduct structure, connecting Pittsburgh’s downtown area with the city’s southern neighborhoods. The bridge reportedly carries 54,000 vehicles daily.

   

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

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (2/24/2017, 12:58 PM)

The importance of a viable Fire prevention/protection program is clearly illustrated here.


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