South Florida

FIU Bridge Companies Cited by OSHA Face Nearly $90,000 in Penalties

The collapse of the FIU pedestrian bridge in March was more than a failure in engineering or construction – it was also a serious violation of worker safety laws, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Friday cited five of the companies involved for seven violations and is seeking $86,658 in penalties.

OSHA said the companies "failed to protect workers when indications of a potential bridge collapse were evident."

Two days before the collapse, which killed six people, the project’s engineer of record, W. Denney Pate, with Figg Bridge Engineers, left a voicemail with the Florida Department of Transportation saying cracks in the span did not pose a safety issue.

On March 15, workers were ordered to re-tighten tension bars that ran through a truss on the north end of the span, exactly where the worst cracking was found. That work was not part of the original design and construction plan, according to engineers who have reviewed project plans. Those bars were de-tensioned according to plan after the span was moved into place five days before the collapse.

But then the cracks were seen and documented with photographs on Tuesday March 13 and Wednesday March 14.

After a meeting was convened on site to discuss the cracks on the morning of March 15, workers were re-tensioning those steel bars when the bridge collapsed.

The OSHA citations against Figg and the project’s engineering and inspection contractor, Bolton Perez & Associates, accuse the companies of failing to protect workers from hazards “likely to cause death or serious bodily harm.”

Specifically, OSHA noted the bridge "had developed multiple cracks of significant width, depth and length at critical locations in load bearing members of the bridge, which compromised the structural integrity of the bridge."

OSHA said Figg and Bolton Perez could have, among other things, developed policies on how to respond to cracks that may affect structural integrity, “including removing employees from the zone of danger until shoring can be placed under the truss” to provide support at the north end of the span.

For that serious violation, OSHA has proposed penalties of $12,934 each against Figg and Bolton Perez.

Officials from Figg said the company isn't commenting on the findings.

The project’s general contractor, Munilla Construction Management, or MCM, and the company hired to do post-tensioning for the bridge, Structural Technologies, each face $25,868 in penalties for two serious violations related to lifelines that should have been sufficiently anchored and attached to employees standing on the canopy of the span. Only a single lifeline was installed and it was attached to five workers, exposing them to a fall hazard, OSHA found.

In addition, the lifeline was not tensioned and was lying on the canopy, exposing employees to a free fall of more than six feet – another serious violation.

MCM and Structural Technologies face $25,868 each for those alleged violations.

"MCM views OSHA’s action as a positive first step toward understanding the root cause of this tragic accident," MCM spokesman Mike Hernandez said in a statement. "While MCM is still reviewing the OSHA fall protection citation, it is noteworthy that OSHA has not claimed that the cited conditions had anything to do with the FIU bridge span’s failure."

A fifth company, Structural Group of South Florida, was cited for one of those lifeline violations, with a proposed penalty of $9,054.

Navaro Brown, a Structural Group employee, fell to his death from the canopy when the bridge collapsed – the only worker to die in the failure. Five other workers suffered serious injuries.

Structural Group of South Florida has not responded to a request for comment.

Five people in vehicles beneath the bridge also died.

The companies have two weeks to comply with the findings, seek a conference with OSHA or directly contest the citations before an independent commission.

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