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Bridge Firm Fined $189K Over Painter Fall

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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A Minnesota bridge-painting firm faces $189,000 in fines after two workers were injured in a fall at a jobsite in Portland, Oregon, earlier this year.

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued contractor Abhe & Svoboda the fines Monday (June 19) at the conclusion of an investigation into conditions on the Ross Island Bridge site after the Feb. 8 incident. Two employees, identified as father and son, were injured when the father fell from a scaffold onto the son.

Fall Protection, Scaffolding Cited

According to Oregon OSHA, the worker who fell was not wearing fall protection, and workers on the site were not correctly trained on when to employ their fall protection. The investigation, the agency says, revealed that workers on the site were told they only needed to wear harnesses when working near the edge of the scaffolding.

"Eight plus employees working on the Quick Deck were exposed to a fall of 37 feet to a lower level, due to the end of the Quick Deck and openings in the floor of the Quick Deck that were not protected by any type of fall protection system," the citation reads.

Ross Island Bridge
Oregon DOT, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

The fines stem from an incident in February at the Ross Island Bridge jobsite (shown here during an earlier phase, in May 2016).

The scaffolding on the site was substandard, Oregon OSHA says, with holes in some spots that forced workers to step around them. "The person assigned to be the competent person did not correct the hazardous conditions and/or have the authority to correct these issues," the citation says.

The agency says that workers within the containment area and on the access platform were using makeshift items such as boxes and barrels to increase their working height, which is a fall hazard.

The worker-safety agency issued a total of nine violations to the firm; two were deemed “willful.”

The two "willful" violations, each of which came with a $70,000 fine, dealt with the safety of the access platform and scaffolds. One alleges that workers on the site had to climb on scaffolding and walk on the outside support in order to reach some work areas in the containment. The other says the contractor did not ensure that the scaffolding system was "constructed in accordance with the qualified person's design."

“Each and every year, falls are one of the major sources of serious injury and death in Oregon workplaces,” said Oregon OSHA administrator Michael Wood. “There is never a good reason to ignore the need to protect workers from such hazards. Yet, this employer brushed off time-tested fall protection rules that are designed to prevent injuries or deaths.”

Company Response

"Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. has a very strong safety culture and the well being of each of our coworkers is of the utmost importance," the contractor said in a statement issued to PaintSquare News. "We do not agree with the findings of the OSHA Compliance Officer(s) and we believe that when this all shakes out a more realistic view of our company and more specifically the Ross Island Bridge project site will emerge. Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. will continue working every day to improve safety at this site as well as all other active and future work sites while vehemently defending itself against the citations by OSHA.

"Unfortunately for the press and your readers we do not feel these issues are best played out in the court of public opinion. There have already been too many inaccuracies and presumptions conveyed which do nothing to improve workplace safety on our sites or any other sites."

Union Concerns

The incident came amid a campaign by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council #5, which said it had filed a report with OSHA about safety measures at the Ross Island Bridge site just a week before the fall. Abhe & Svoboda is a non-union contractor.

At the time of the incident, 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.

"The fact that OSHA fined Abhe & Svoboda the maximum penalty for this accident is a clear indication of how egregious this case is regarding safety violations," said IUPAT General Vice President Jim Williams Jr.  "It was fortunate no one was killed in this accident, but if the violations found here are consistent with other job sites in the country, the workers might not be so lucky next time. The IUPAT will continue to be diligent in exposing such safety violations committed by not only Abhe & Svoboda, but for any company that puts the safety of its workers second to its bottom line."


Tagged categories: Bridges; Fall protection; Health & Safety; North America; Safety; Scaffolding; Violations

Comment from M. Halliwell, (6/21/2017, 11:30 AM)

Having been both union and non-union in my working career, I get a "hmmm" reaction: grain of salt time. Obviously, there is room for improvement at the Abhe & Svoboda worksite as OSHA has hit them with some pretty decent citations....but I also detect a wee bit of an axe grinding on the par of the IUPAT. I suspect that IUPAT job sites have also been subject to citations, so it's a bit of a pot calling the kettle black type of thing with union / non-union friction thrown in for good measure.

Comment from Burt Olhiser, (6/23/2017, 9:27 AM)

Well said sir, well said.

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