In design and construction, liability arose from sources both expected and unexpected. When it came to risk, 2016 was notable for setbacks and initiatives in worker safety and some tough lessons about flawed bridges.
Despite much progress over the years, the health and well-being of jobsite workers is as great a concern as ever. Starting with a report from CNA Financial that construction workers use opioid pain relievers more than any other workers and continuing with data that showed that construction work-zone accidents were on the upswing, it seemed as if years of safety progress were beginning to fade away. And when safety slips, it usually reflects poorly on the overall quality of work on a project, a recent study showed.
One instance in which safety failed was at the final phase of a Lower Manhattan renovation project. On Feb. 5, as winds were stirring, the operators of a tower crane were trying to lower the boom to the ground; when the operators lost control, the boom dropped onto the street and killed a pedestrian. City officials initiated stringent new wind shut-down requirements for crane operations for a while but then eased them somewhat. On June 10, a crane-safety working group recommended that older cranes without a full complement of modern safety and data-recording devices should be phased out in New York City and replaced by more recently made machines.
One of the most compelling safety stories involved a jobsite accident in 2014, when an ironworker drowned after his lift tumbled into a cold river at Baylor University. In April, a jury in a civil lawsuit by the ironworkers’ family ordered several contractors involved with the project to pay $17.7 million in damages (the verdict may be appealed). The chain of events leading up to the tragedy, described in the story "Fateful Decisions in Death of a Construction Worker," was one of the most viewed on ENR.com.
At the Construction Industry Institute's annual conference in Maryland in August, an impatience was palpable regarding the rising fatality rates in construction. After years of cutting down injuries yet failing to do the same for fatalities, a CII committee presented a risk-management tool geared to high-impact, low-frequency events. The CII committe compiled 16 common precursors to severe, potentially deadly accidents. Essentially, the system identifies whether any combination of the precursors exists and then calculates the aggregate risk.
The year proved to be another tough one for some bridges and bridge designs. On Jan. 10, the deck of the new Nipigon River Bridge, about 60 miles from Thunder Bay, Ontario, split apart under uplift forces from the bridge cables. No motorists sustained injuries. An investigation turned up inadequate connections that were supposed to have secured the bridge deck. The upward displacement of the deck at the place of the split was about two feet.
When pedestrian bridges collapsed on a North Carolina college campus in 2014, a bridge-design error engulfed the project's design engineer in numerous investigations and legal entanglements. While Stewart Engineering paid a fine imposed by the state engineering board and upgraded its quality-control procedures, Robert T. Macia, former Stewart Engineering president, contested allegations by the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors that he is "guilty of gross negligence or misconduct." For the alleged design error, Macia faces a range of penalties, including license suspension or revocation. A hearing will take place in 2017.