Oregon OSHA has fined Abhe & Svoboda Inc. $189,000 for nine safety violations – two of them willful – that exposed employees to death or serious injury as they worked on a project to restore the Ross Island Bridge in Portland.
Oregon OSHA cited the violations as the result of an investigation of a February 2017 accident. Each violation, though different in detail, involved the same grave problem: a failure to protect workers from falls that would seriously hurt or kill them.
The accident happened underneath the bridge, where a suspended scaffolding system was installed. An employee was working on an upper deck, 37 feet above a lower platform. He fell through a ladder opening, landing on an employee who was working directly below on the lower platform. Both employees survived the accident, suffering multiple injuries. The employee who fell was not protected by a fall protection system, per Oregon OSHA’s rules. In fact, an estimated eight employees were exposed to this hazard when the accident occurred, according to the investigation.
The investigation also found:
- The company failed to provide proper access to work areas, forcing employees to climb up or down the scaffolding and bridge structure, and to sidestep or step over holes ranging in size from three inches to 24 inches
- The company failed to construct and install the scaffolding system according to the minimum bracing requirements, as outlined by professional specifications
- Scaffolds and related components were not set up, dismantled, and moved under the direction of a competent person
- Employees lacked rest platforms while climbing 37-foot ladders
- The company failed to ensure that employees had a work platform that was at least 18 inches wide
- Anchorages for fall protection equipment were not installed or used under the supervision of a competent person
- Scaffolds were not inspected for visible defects before each work shift by a competent person
- A makeshift device – a wooden step stool – was used on platforms to increase the working height of employees
During the investigation, the corporate safety manager for Minnesota-based Abhe & Svoboda spoke dismissively of Oregon’s workplace safety rules, saying they change too much.
“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.”
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.