The Virginia Dept. of Transportation stopped construction for five days on a $650-million interchange project in Springfield after two construction workers died there in two weeks. A third worker died on the job last October.

VDOT suspended work June 7 on the "Mixing Bowl" for a safety review, and construction resumed June 13. It was VDOT's first "stand-down" in northern Virginia, says a spokesman.

Besides the deaths, there were more causes for concern. "We had recorded a number of near-misses," says Larry Cloyed, VDOT assistant resident engineer. "We were seeing what we felt was a disturbing trend." One worker fell and sustained a fractured skull and "some paralysis," says Cloyed.

SUSPENSION VDOT ordered five-day halt on $650-million job.
(Photo courtesy of Virginia Dept. of Transportation)

On May 23, Jose Portillo, a Lane Construction Corp. worker, died after he fell about 25 ft from scaffolding being erected for reconstruction of a bridge over rail tracks, according to VDOT. Cloyed says brackets were up for the tie line and Portillo had his harness on, but didn't appear to have attempted to attach himself to the tie line.

Last October, Florencio Ferrell, a Shir-ley Contracting foreman, died when he was hit by a bucket that was disconnected from construction equipment, according to VDOT. Virginia's Dept. of Labor and Industry is investigating the fatal accidents.

During the shutdown, VDOT reviewed equipment, contractors' and subcontractors' written safety and training plans and their implementation, says Cloyed. It also is doing a "dynamic," ongoing review, as crews return to work, including checking all protective gear.

"We all agree that it is prudent to review the project's safety procedures to ensure that all parties are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of employees and the public," says Michael Post, chief executive of Shirley Contracting. "Since the beginning of the project, an extensive safety program has been in place that is constantly monitored and involves all personnel."

The project will upgrade the interchange where Interstates 95, 395 and 495 meet. Construction began in March 1999 and is to be complete in 2007.

The most recent fatality occurred June 5, when Caesar Rivera, a worker for Cress Welding Service, a subcontractor to Shirley Contracting Corp., Lorton, Va., fell about 100 ft from an overpass under construction. VDOT officials say Rivera was working near sheet metal pans on the bridge deck. The accident is under investigation, but it appears Rivera had his harness clipped to a safety line and was moving on the deck when he fell, says Cloyed. The "mystery" is whether Rivera's equipment failed or his harness was cut on the metal, he adds.