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PA Contractor Faces Fines for Bridge Collapse

Thursday, July 11, 2019

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After being cited in January 2016 for serious violations, which resulted in the partial collapse of the Pennsy Bridge in Ridgway, Pennsylvania, contractor Francis J. Palo Inc. is now facing $9,800 in fines.

The sentence was carried out by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.

What Happened

The incident occurred on June 18, 2015, during a $2.2 million Pennsylvania Department of Transportation-approved overhaul and replacement project along U.S. Route 219.

Because of the bridge’s arch shape, Palo’s plan was to demolish the structure and rebuild the bridge in halves. According to the court’s opinion, the plan for the project included the following statement: “at no time during the demolition process will men or equipment work on or from the component being demolished.”

As a result of parking various heavy equipment on half of the structure, the load-bearing capacity of the 103-year-old Pennsy Bridge gave way and collapsed. Falling with the 50-ton excavator were two construction workers. One worker sustained a head injury and the other suffered ann ankle sprain. Two other workers, who were found under the bridge after the collapse, also sustained injuries.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation and cited Palo for failing to conduct an engineering study in order to “determine the condition of the framing floors and walls and possibility of unplanned collapse” prior to beginning construction work on the PennDOT project.

In a second citation, OSHA claimed that the bridge was not structurally sound enough to hold heavy equipment.

But, according to Ridgway Borough Manager Kim Zimmerman, the construction crew had been cutting across one of the bridge’s abutments earlier that same week and had “almost finished or just finished cutting the other abutment.”

Court documents claim that, when "Palo had finished both the horizontal and vertical cuts on one end of the bridge, and had almost completed the cuts on the other side, that first half of the bridge collapsed from its center.”

After OSHA had issued the citations, Palo contested and petitioned a review in September 2018.

In a testimony from the review commission’s expert, Mohammed Ayub said that, “because the bridge was arched, its structure directed its load to its supporting abutments. When the bridge half was cut free from the abutments on either end, the half could no longer bear as much weight as it could before. The bridge was no longer strong enough to support the heavy excavator and collapsed under its weight.”

Ayub also added in his testimony that a reasonably experienced contractor should have known that cutting the bridge’s abutments would change the structural behavior and should have conducted an analysis to determine if the bridge could sustain the excavator’s weight prior to parking the equipment on the bridge slated to be demolished.

In response, Palo officials had testified that they had been relying on past experiences, while the employee who created the demolition plan confessed that his experience with arch bridges was limited, and that he had assumed the arch was more decorative than structural.

After reviewing the evidence, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support the Commission’s findings and the petition for review was denied.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Bridges; Completed projects; Department of Transportation (DOT); DOT; Hazards; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Safety; Safety equipment

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