2013-08-01 / Front Page

Standstill continues on painting of bridges

Officials stopped work after fatality last week
By Margo Sullivan

Following the death of a worker on duty last week, officials at the state bridge authority say they haven’t decided when work on the Newport and Mount Hope bridges will resume.

David Darlington, chairman of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority board, said the work is being delayed “for an indeterminable time,” pending receipt of an updated safety plan from the contractor.

The maintenance projects on both spans were halted after a worker was killed July 23 in a fall from the lower scaffolding on the Mount Hope Bridge. David Dupee, of Bozrah, Conn., fell some 75 feet shortly before 9 a.m. He died hours later at Rhode Island Hospital.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident, according to local OSHA Director Patrick Griffin. This week, Griffin said, investigators were still conducting interviews with employees.

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” he said. “It will take us a little while longer.”

By statute, OSHA has six months to make a report, but he predicted the case would not require that long. Possibly, the agency would have some news to report in four to six weeks, he said.

Ultimately, more than one employer could be cited for safety violations, Griffin said.

However, he added, OSHA had nothing to do with the decision to stop work on the bridge.

Darlington said the bridge authority ordered work on both bridges to be stopped pending the new safety plan from Aetna Bridge of Pawtucket.

Dupee, 45, was not employed by Aetna. He worked for TDA Construction, a New York subcontractor in charge of the painting job on the Mount Hope Bridge. A different subcontractor is painting the Newport Bridge, Darlington said.

Even so, the bridge authority has required Aetna Bridge to update its safety plan because the company has the maintenance contract with the state. According to Darlington, Aetna brought on the subcontractors.

As far as the cause of the accident, the bridge authority will await the report from OSHA, he said. The authority is not conducting its own investigation.

Beth Bailey, RITBA spokeswoman, confirmed the prime contractor on both bridges is Aetna Bridge.

“For the Mount Hope Bridge project, the subcontactor to Aetna is TDA Construction,” she said. “The subcontractor to Aetna on the Pell Bridge is Atsalis Bros.”

Dealing with a number of employers on a project is not unusual, according to Griffin. OSHA has a longstanding procedure to assess responsibility, if multiple employers are involved at a worksite, he said.

“It won’t always be one employer that will be found responsible for safety violations,” he said.

Under the multiple employer procedure, investigators will determine which employer or employers created the hazard; which ones had control at the site; which ones exposed workers to the dangerous conditions; and which ones had the ability to correct the unsafe conditions.

Violations can be issued in all four categories, he said. However, it could also be only one employer, Griffin added.

Aetna has a good safety record, Darlington said. In his 13 years at RITBA, there have been no worker deaths or lawsuits due to injuries.

Darlington said he personally could not remember the last fatal accident on any of the bridges. He is also doubtful anyone has ever been killed while doing maintenance on the bridges or painting. Workers may have been killed during the original construction, but he believes the last fatality before Dupee’s death probably dates back 30 or 40 years.

Although, workers on the Newport Bridge were involved in an accident last fall when three men slipped through decking.

“It was a fright,” said Darlington. Fortunately, no one was physically injured. In that case, the men were wearing safety harnesses, which saved them from falling, Darlington said.

Griffin said the accident last fall was the only other bridge mishap in “recent memory.”

Darlington anticipates Aetna will present a new safety plan sometime this week, but said before the job can resume, the bridge authority will have to review the document and decide if the provisions are acceptable.

“We take safety very seriously,” he said.

The Newport Bridge maintenance project started in the fall of 2010. The painting part of the job represents the first time the span has been painted since the 1990s. The bridge construction was completed in 1969.

The bridge authority has responsibility for the upkeep on the Newport, Mount Hope, Jamestown and the Sakonnet spans.

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