A fatality on a Massachusetts bridge project has a local labor union questioning whether two union construction workers were properly trained to run the aerial lift they were operating at the time.
According to authorities, at 10 A.M. on Nov. 27 the workers were in an aerial lift preparing the Interstate-495 bridge over the Merrimack River in Haverhill, Mass., for demolition when they both fell about 50 ft from the lift basket onto a floating barge below.
One of the workers, Dennis Robertson, 44, of Manchester, N.H., was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Essex County District Attorney’s office. The father of four was a union member in good standing for 25 years, says Mike Gagliardi, business manager for the Laborers Union International Local 175, Lawrence, Mass.
The other worker, Carlos Leon, 46, a member of Building Wreckers Local 1421, was flown to a Boston area hospital “where he is in critical condition with multiple bone breaks and serious injuries,” according to Gagliardi.
The two were working on the $110-million Haverhill I-495 bridge replacement project, which began in August 2018. Work on the project was halted following the incident, and there is no estimate on when it will resume, says MassDOT. The design-build project team includes general contractor SPS New England and designer HNTB.
Both workers were employees of demolition contractor J.R. Vinagro Corp., a subcontractor for SPS New England. Vinagro did not respond to an inquiry from ENR.
“The industry needs to understand whether the individuals were properly trained by the contractor to operate the telescopic manlift,” Gagliardi says.
When the federal and state investigations are completed, he believes it will prove that the workers were tied off when they began work in the aerial lift.
“We are asking authorities if the lanyards attached to the railing slid off as the workers were ejected from the basket,” Gagliardi says.
The union is also seeking to learn from authorities whether inspections of the lift were conducted daily as required. “We want to see if the inspections were properly done to see if there were no defects to this piece of equipment.”
J.R. Vinagro was previously cited for a 2016 violation involving an employee who died after getting caught and partially pulled through a conveyor belt at the firm’s Johnston, R.I., location.
Since 2010, the firm has racked up a total of $86,397 in OSHA fines according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor OSHA website. After settlements, the firm has paid $37,205 in OSHA fines since 2010 for 8 serious violations and 1 other than serious violation, an OSHA spokesman says.
The incident is under investigation by authorities including the Massachusetts State Police, the Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The transportation agency released a statement: “The Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation will be cooperating fully with OSHA and other authorities in determining what occurred to lead to this tragedy.”
A spokesman for OSHA, New England, says its inspection, which could take up to six months, will seek to determine whether or not there were any violations of workplace safety standards.