In February, two contractors from Abhe & Svoboda fell and were injured, resulting in nine safety violations

An OSHA (Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division) investigation released Monday cited a Ross Island Bridge contractor, Abhe & Svoboda Inc., $189,000 for nine safety violations.

Two were counted as willful violations that exposed employees to death or serious injury as they worked. Back in February, a worker fell 37 feet through a ladder opening and landed on another worker on a lower platform. Both employees survived the accident that happened under the bridge on a suspended scaffolding system, and suffered multiple injuries.

Each violation involved a failure to protect workers from falls that would seriously injure them.

The investigation found the employee who fell wasn't protected by a fall protection system, and an estimated eight employees were exposed to the same hazard when the accident occured.

According to the OSHA release, the corporate safety manager for Minnesota-based Abhe & Svoboda said Oregon's workplace safety rules change too often.

"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." PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JULES ROGERS - As of this June, crews completed painting the final top coat on nine sections of the bridge on the first two spans, and contractors are currently installing an upper work platform on the north side of the bridge.

Oregon OSHA cited two of the nine safety violations as willful: the failure to provide proper access to work areas, which forced employees to climb structures and step over holes, and the failure to follow bracing requirements for the scaffolding. Each willful violation carries the legal maximum penalty of $70,000. A willful violation occurs when an employer intentionally or knowingly allows a violation to occur.

Seven of the nine violations were cited as serious, each with the maximum penalty of $7,000.

"The safety on that site is the responsibility of the contractor," said Don Hamilton, public information officer with ODOT. "They are legally obligated to enforce all federal and state local safety rules and obligated to make sure the crew has the correct safety equipment and the infrastructure on the site is properly and safely constructed. That's the responsibility not of ODOT, but the contractor."

ODOT response

Contractor crews working for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) began work in October 2014 to remove paint and rust, make repairs to the structure and repaint the steel supports. The work is occuring seasonally over three years.

As of this June, crews completed painting the final top coat on nine sections of the bridge on the first two spans, and contractors are currently installing an upper work platform on the north side of the bridge.

"They are required to use proper and required safety equipment," Hamilton told the Business Tribune. "The safety issues are very clearly spelled out for them. If we see some recommendations for further improvement from OSHA, absolutely we'll be looking at those things to see if there's more that we can do."

Abhe & Svoboda are currently on the list of companies prequalified to bid on ODOT projects, but there's a chance that might change.

"We just got the report and we're looking at it very carefully," Hamilton said. "We have several options that are available to us including suspension, removal from the list, and that sort of thing. No decisions have been made about that."

ODOT's contract with Abhe & Svoboda is 250 pages long, including safety.

"That's pretty difficult for companies that take on a project of this size, if they have to comply with an awful lot of regulations," Hamilton said. "We do all of this to make sure we do everything we can to protect the workers on site."

While falls are the most common injury in the construction industry, ODOT's most common accidents are roadside work zone crashes.

According to Hamilton, ODOT sees about 25 work zone crashes that involve fatalities or serious injuries every year in Oregon. Every 19 hours, there is a work zone crash somewhere in the state, and four out of five fatalities are drivers and their passengers — not the highway road workers.

"These are the kinds of issues we try to address with increased education and messaging to make sure we get the word out about the dangers associated with work zone issues," Hamilton said. "If OSHA suggests changes, we'll certainly be looking at that, too. We'll do everything we can to improve safety, it's absolutely critical."

By Jules Rogers
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