It was a bridge too near for a truck driver on Route 41 in Lake Butte des Morts near Oshkosh in Wisconsin on July 5 last year. The driver was killed after a crane boom hit him when the crane collapsed while erecting bridge girders. Another worker, the crane operator, was seriously wounded after he was flung from his cab as the crane overturned.
As a result of the incident, the crane operator’s employer, Lunda Construction, together with subcontractor Choice Construction Cos. Inc., has been cited by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with one willful and five serious violations. The employer of the lone fatality was not cited after OSHA’s investigation.
The incident highlighted the dangers that heavy construction workers all over the United States face every day and the necessity of providing health and safety training. It also focused yet again on the wisdom of having a work site safety watchdog implementing safety standards and ensuring that safe and healthful work site environments are always maintained for workers.
Lunda Construction’s willful violation was for its noncompliance with crane operator standards which require the designation of a lift director and the holding of crane-lift planning meetings. OSHA explained that a willful violation is committed when the employer knowingly disregards or is plainly indifferent to the worker’s health and safety, or simply defies the law’s requirements.
The five serious violations stemmed from the following:
- Lunda Construction failed to ensure that the crane was sufficiently fixed to the barge.
- It did not use the appropriate signaling methods.
- It let a crane travel with a suspended load.
- It failed to adequately train personnel for their roles.
- And it did not comply with the critical lift plan.
A serious violation comes about when a hazard that an employer knows or ought to have known about can likely seriously injure or kill a worker.
On the other hand, Choice Construction, a subcontractor supplying personnel for putting up girders, was cited with four serious violations. Like Lunda Construction, it failed to adequately train personnel for their roles, it did not comply with crane operator standards, and it failed to designate a lift director. It also failed to design an effective safety program.
Both companies had run afoul of OSHA before. Choice Construction had been thrice inspected prior to the latest incident, resulting in two minor violations. Lunda Construction was in more dire straits. It was involved in another crane accident that also resulted in a fatality—this time, its own worker, who was assembling a section of the crane when the accident happened. Previous to that, the company had incurred five OSHA inspections that resulted in five violations.
Because of its repeated and willful violations of safety protocols and its failure to abate hazards, Lunda Construction has landed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, a rehabilitation initiative for recalcitrant violators.
Nick Walters, the OSHA regional administrator in Chicago, lamented that an entirely preventable accident such as the one near Oshkosh has happened again. He reiterated the employers’ responsibility to rid the workplace of all hazards.