Photo Courtesy of Florida DOT
Investigators are examining how much training was given to the driver of a load similar to the one pictured. He died while unloading a sound-wall panel.

A fatal accident that occurred on May 14 on a Jacksonville, Fla., highway project is raising questions about training procedures and poor communication. A trucker delivering precast sound-wall sections was crushed by one of the 15,000-lb concrete elements as he unloaded his transport truck at the jobsite. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration is investigating.

Alexander Cordova, 42, a Cuban national employed by Tampa-based Big Bend Transport Inc., was helping to unload from the truck's lowboy trailer a sound-wall section measuring 20 x 10.5 x 1 ft when it fell on him. He died instantly.

"It was this employee's first time ever coming to this particular jobsite," said Brian Sturtecky, OSHA's Jacksonville-based area director. "Also, we have a huge issue because this truck driver spoke little to no English," and people at the jobsite spoke almost no Spanish, he added. "It is inexcusable in this day and age that there wasn't someone competent to ensure that something like this doesn't happen."

Sturtecky continued, "We're going to look at whether anyone came with this driver to let him know the procedures, where in his training did he learn how to use proper rigging and binding techniques and why wasn't there someone at the jobsite to ensure that there were clear instructions as to what the driver was supposed to do or not do."

Following this line of investigation, another possible focus will be on whether the load might have shifted in transit and "why wasn't the crane hooked up prior to the unbinding of the noise barrier," he says. In that case, lack of fluency in English may just be a complicating factor.

"We use the term 'vulnerable workers,' " Sturtecky says. "This would fall into that category." Cordova's wife and two children still live in Cuba, and OSHA is trying to find out how long he has been in this country.

A woman who answered the trucking company's telephone declined to comment, citing the fact that the accident is under investigation. She also declined to name the owner of the company, saying she didn't want to lose her job.

The design-build team of Dragados USA Inc. and T.Y. Lin International is the prime contractor for the $89-million Northeast Florida Express Lanes project, designing and building tolled express lanes on 4.2 miles of Interstate 295 in Jacksonville. A dense buffer of woods has been cleared, and sound walls now are being built to abate the construction and highway noise that affects nearby houses. The lump-sum contract was awarded in July 2014 and is now 25% complete, says an FDOT spokeswoman. Construction began in October with a 735-day schedule, and the work is expected to be completed in fall 2016. Dragados did not return a call for comment.