Contractor in Ross Island Bridge restoration fined $189,000 for safety violations

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PORTLAND, Ore. – A contracting company working on the Ross Island Bridge was cited for $189,000 in safety violations after two employees were injured in a workplace accident.

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined the contractor, Minnesota-based Abhe & Svodoba Inc., for nine safety violations that put employees at risk of serious injury or death during the Ross Island Bridge restoration project.

The fines stemmed from an investigation into a workplace fall that injured two employees, Marco Lilly and Christopher Montiel.

According to OSHA officials, Lilly fell through a ladder opening and landed on top of a Montiel who was working on the upper deck, located about 40 feet below. Both suffered several injuries in the accident.

"Workers were forced to step over holes that ranged in size of up to 24-inches because the planking wasn't correct in terms of the platforms and essentially you had a situation here where workers were comprehensively exposed to falls on the system itself," said Aaron Corvin, Oregon Department of Consumer & Business Affairs spokesman whose agency includes Oregon OHSA.

During their subsequent investigation, Oregon OSHA found several safety violations (listed below) that put other employees at risk. Oregon OSHA considers two of the violations “willful” – which means they carry a maximum penalty of $70,000. The others carry a maximum penalty of $7,000.

A willful violation means "a company knowingly or intentionally allowed a worker or workers to be exposed to a hazard.," said Corvin.

- 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

ODOT released the following statement regarding the Oregon OSHA report:

"OSHA’s announcement today reaffirms the importance of strict adherence to all safety laws and serves as a reminder of the dangers transportation workers face every day.

Nothing matters more to ODOT than ensuring the safety of workers on our projects, whether they are ODOT employees or contractor employees. ODOT sets strict safety requirements for every project. Long before work gets started contractors must commit to follow all federal, state and local safety laws and to provide all necessary safety equipment. It is the contractor’s responsibility to monitor and enforce safe work practices on the job site. If an ODOT inspector or project manager sees a potential deficiency in the contractor’s safety program, it must be raised as a contract issue. We cannot oversee the contractor’s safety program in accordance with OR-OSHA’s Multi-employer worksites rule.

ODOT appreciates the thorough investigation OSHA conducted on the Ross Island Bridge project and supports the actions it has taken to reinforce the importance of adhering to safe workplace standards and procedures."

KATU News left multiple messages with Abhe and Svoboda for comment on the fine against the company, but didn't get a call back Monday.

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