Bridge workers worry about job site safety after two men fall about 40 feet

Work is stopped for now on the Ross Island Bridge, two days after two men painting it fell 40 to 50 feet off scaffolding.

They're both recovering from serious injuries.

"They're doing good, I was there while they were doing some testing and they're doing good. I'm glad, I'm really glad, they're really lucky," Omar Rubi, a coworker, told KATU News.

Rubi said the two men are father and son, and he added he's not surprised by the incident.

"There are a lot of safety concerns that have been going on there," Rubi said, claiming the job site is unsafe, from scaffolding stability to protective gear.

KATU News has heard from several other workers who did not want to talk on camera in fear of retribution from the company, Abhe & Svoboda.

An OSHA complaint filed on the same job site last year talks about concerns of a hole in the scaffolding:

Friday afternoon, Oregon OSHA representatives confirmed Abhe & Svoboda is on a "safety stand-down," meaning work is stopped while an employer talks directly to employees about safety.

This is typically voluntary, but strongly encouraged by both state and federal OSHA, especially after a fall. OSHA officials say it was voluntary in this case.

KATU reached out to the company which is headquartered in Minnesota, and they wouldn't provide anyone on site to speak with us on camera to answer any questions.

In a statement the company wrote of the workers, "We are doing everything possible to ensure they are getting the best medical assistance available. Their conditions are improving and their recovery is our top concern."

On safety, Abhe & Svoboda writes in part, "Employees are encouraged to report unsafe conditions. We correct unsafe conditions or practices as they become known. Our safety statistics are among the best in the painting and paper hanging industry. We are taking this matter very seriously. We cooperate with all investigations and agencies though do not comment on ongoing investigations. At this point, we cannot provide you with further details as members of our team are continuing to assess the situation. Our primary goal is to ensure everyone’s safety."

"Unfortunately, I was not surprised, but I was very pleased that no one was killed on this project. I mean, that very well could have been a death," Scott Oldham, who represents the Painters Local 10 Union, said.

He does not represent anyone who works on the site, but added they have heard similar safety complaints from workers. Oldham said the union has been concerned from the beginning because the company underbid on the project.

"The paint prices are the same. The material and scaffolding are pretty much the same. The only place to make it up is on the labor," Oldham said.

Rubi said he knows he's risking losing his job by talking about it, but he said it's not about him.

"When you push workers to extremes, safety goes out the door," Rubi explained. "And workers, in order to get the job done, start jeopardizing their safety."

An ODOT spokesperson says they will wait for OSHA's investigation to be completed before making decisions - if any - about the job site moving forward.

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