The Tennessee Dept. of Transportation has suspended work on nine bridge projects statewide pending a safety review after a second worker fatality within four months on a Knoxville bridge job.
Mount Juliet, Tenn.-based Britton Bridge LLC and its affiliate, Mountain States Contractors LLC, got the work suspension order on May 25, one day after a worker was struck in the head and killed by a falling chunk of concrete on the Henley Street Bridge in Knoxville. Britton voluntarily suspended work after that accident.
The worker, Solin Estrada-Jimenez, 47, of Chattanooga, was initially identified as Rodolfo Bustillos. Family members said that name was on false documents he used to get work, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
Another Britton employee, John David Womac, a 33-year-old project foreman, was killed on Jan. 25 on the same project after he was hit in the head by a track hoe bucket and arm.
The Tennessee Occupational Safety & Health Administration (TOSHA) investigated that incident and fined Britton $16,750 for safety violations. The company is contesting the fine, but a hearing date has not been set.
TOSHA also fined Mountain States $135,000 after a trench collapsed on a Nashville job in 2005, killing a worker.
TDOT can suspend contractor work for issues including safety, environment or traffic “if unsuitable conditions are present, in [the] interest of public safety,” said B.J. Doughty, department spokeswoman.
“While the department has this ability, it is uncommon to suspend work on several projects,” she said.
TDOT has not determined how long the suspension will be in effect. It also includes bidding on new jobs.
“We want to conduct a thorough assessment of all safety measures in place on these projects to ensure the welfare of the other employees,” John Schroer, TDOT commissioner, said in a statement.
Jerry Britton, chief of Britton Bridge, issued a statement, calling the event “a tragic accident.”
“We are cooperating fully with the Dept. of Transportation investigation into this accident and have engaged our own safety consultants for all of our sites to assure we are doing everything possible to keep our employees safe on the job,” he said.
Multiple Jobs Affected
The suspension involves contracts totaling $124.8 million. Besides the $24.7-million Henley Street Bridge reconstruction and widening, it includes the $29.5-million state Route 109 bridge over the Cumberland River near Gallatin, the $22.4-million state Route 33 bridge replacement over the Clinch River at Maynardville and the $21.5-million U.S. 41 bridge over the Tennessee River in Marion County.
TOSHA has cited Britton six times for violations since 2002 and Mountain States 13 times between 2005 and 2010. The companies were fined in most of the cases, though some were settled later with a reduced fine or no payment.
The initial confusion over the victim’s identity is drawing scrutiny regarding hiring practices. TDOT requires all contractors and subcontractors to attest that they will not knowingly hire illegal workers.
Britton said his company is “re-examining every policy associated with this tragic accident, including the way we check the identity/work-authorization status of employees.”