Texas Company Cited in Fatal I-430 Bridge Accident in Arkansas

October 7, 2008

A Texas contractor faces almost $31,000 in penalties after federal safety officials found that undersized bolts and overloaded scaffolding contributed to accident in Arkansas in April that resulted in the deaths of three workers, a newspaper reported.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not released the specific cause of the April 2 accident but cited Oscar Renda Contracting Inc. for eight workplace safety violations, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Wulfrango Ruiz, Juan Manuel Flores Silva, and Manuel Gonzalez, who also used the name Eleazar Lopez, fell 50 feet into the Arkansas River when their 5,000-pound-plus platform detached from a dolly on Interstate 430 and fell into about 20 feet of water. Rescue workers recovered the bodies of Ruiz and Silva, but not Gonzalez.

Among other concerns, the Sept. 24 citations raised questions as to whether the scaffolding was designed and inspected to ensure it could handle the weight of workers and equipment. Also, the men were not wearing flotation devices designed for high-impact activity, according to the OSHA citations. The company faces $30,800 in proposed penalties.

The men were building a water pipeline underneath the I-430 bridge. The workers were installing brackets for two 30-inch water mains, a $6.4 million pipeline project of a larger $43 million initiative to increase water capacity for Cabot, Jacksonville, the North Pulaski Waterworks Association and Central Arkansas Water.

Terry Brem, safety director for Oscar Renda, said the company does not agree with OSHA’s findings, but did not elaborate.

“The violations will be addressed, there’s no doubt about that,” Brem said. “We don’t agree with them all.”

The citations revealed what OSHA investigators found. For example, swivel bolts connecting the top of the scaffolding to the dolly’s ballast plate were a half-inch smaller than the holes. The size difference allowed the bolts to move vertically within the openings as traffic passed over the bridge.

Also, the scaffold platform and associated hardware were not rated to support the weight of the men and their equipment, and a recommended backup cable system wasn’t attached to the platform, the newspaper reported. In addition, ropes used in suspending the scaffold platform reportedly weren’t inspected before each work shift.

Oscar Renda Contracting also was cited for not having a rescue boat immediately available in the area and for not recording the deaths on a log filed later with OSHA.

Work on the water-pipe project stopped the day of the accident. The contract with Oscar Renda Contracting is still valid, but work cannot resume until the company submits an updated construction plan, said Jim Ferguson, an engineer for Central Arkansas Water.

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, www.arkansasonline.com

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