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INTERSTATE 74 BRIDGE

Crane boom accident at new I-74 bridge being investigated

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The federal government is looking into last week's boom crane failure on the Interstate 74 bridge-construction site.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, regards news stories about such workplace incidents as "referrals," a Department of Labor spokesman said Tuesday. Workplace inspections also are undertaken in the event of a complaint, an injury or fatality.

On Feb. 13, a boom crane appeared to have failed, with the boom falling into the Mississippi River. No one was injured.

The general contractor for the new Interstate 74 bridge, Lunda Construction, previously was cited and fined by OSHA for two crane-related fatalities. Both occurred in 2012 on U.S. Route 41 construction sites managed by Lunda near De Pere and Oshkosh, Wisc., according to OSHA. In the same 2016 news release that recalled the two crane-related deaths, OSHA reported Lunda was being cited for one willful and five serious safety violations related to another workplace death in September 2015.

In that case, an 18-year-old man was working as a carpenter's apprentice when he was struck and killed by a forklift. Investigators for OSHA determined the forklift operator had a physical restriction that barred him from using his right arm, and he lacked adequate training.

Lunda was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which focuses federal labor resources on employers "who show indifference toward safety standards," according to OSHA.

The Department of Labor spokesman said Lunda no longer is listed as a participant in the program. He said the company's last OSHA inspection occurred in Michigan in July 2017, and Lunda was in compliance.

The company's previous safety issues did not impact the Iowa DOT when it chose Lunda to lead the bridge construction, said DOT project engineer Danielle Alvarez.

The bridge contract was let in April 2017, and Lunda was among five contractors to bid. 

"At the time we reviewed the bids and awarded the contract, we had no information to suggest that Lunda was not a responsible bidder under the state and federal standards that applied to this project," Alvarez wrote in an email Tuesday. "We do consider contractors’ safety records in the letting and award process."

As DOT projects are completed, she said, the state evaluates every contractor. The results of the evaluations help the DOT determine whether contractors are qualified to bid on future projects, she said.

Any issues, including safety matters, could get additional state review. But the DOT's deeper dive into contractor records would only occur when the agency has "direct knowledge" of an incident and "would usually only include projects that were administered by the Iowa DOT," Alvarez wrote.

Lunda has been the prime contractor on four Iowa DOT-let projects since 2000, she said, and none had safety issues that resulted in the company being disqualified to bid on state projects in Iowa.

"We were not aware of any previous workplace fatalities related to Lunda, as they apparently did not occur on projects previously administered by the Iowa DOT, but we also note that Lunda was not disbarred or suspended from bidding on federal projects by the Federal Highway Administration and was not to our knowledge disbarred or suspended in any other state," Alvarez wrote. "Lunda responded quickly and appropriately after this incident, and all necessary authorities, including OSHA and the U.S. Coast Guard, have been notified.

"We have not yet determined whether this incident will impact the overall project completion schedule."

Brett LaRue, Lunda's ironworker superintendent out of Local No. 444 in Joliet, declined comment when contacted Tuesday and at the time of the incident last week. In declining Tuesday, he said, "You're not getting anything from me."

Representatives from OSHA's Peoria office opened an investigation into the crane failure on February 14. The agency has six months to complete the investigation.

From 2011 to 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, there were 220 crane-related deaths in the U.S. The 5-year average was 44 fatalities a year, and a total of 12 occurred in Illinois in that 5-year span.

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