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Engineers failed to interpret cracks in Miami bridge before collapse: OSHA

Pedestrian bridge collapse

Engineers overseeing the construction of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University that collapsed last year, killing one employee and five drivers, failed to recognize the bridge was in danger of collapsing and that a street below the bridge should have been closed, according to a U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration report.

On March 15, 2018, the bridge under construction in Miami collapsed, causing the six fatalities and leaving another employee permanently disabled when the bridge fell as the motorists waited for the traffic light underneath the bridge and as the employees were performing work activities on top of the bridge structure, according to the report published on Tuesday by OSHA’s Directorate of Construction.

Multiple companies were cited for workplace safety violations in September 2018 after the bridge collapse and faced proposed penalties totaling $86,658, but all are contesting the OSHA fines and citations.

The engineer of record working for Tallahassee, Florida-based FIGG Bridge Engineers Inc. failed to recognize that the bridge was in danger of collapsing when he inspected it hours before the collapse and should have immediately instructed that the bridge be shored at appropriate locations and the street below closed, according to the OSHA report.

“The bridge had structural design deficiencies that contributed to the collapse during construction stage III,” the report noted. “The cracks on the bridge occurred due to deficient structural design.”

The morning of the incident, the engineer of record held a meeting with project participants after evaluating the cracks over the course of the previous two days and acknowledged that his computations could not replicate the cracks and therefore, he did not know why the cracks were occurring. The construction engineer and inspector of the project advised the engineer of record at this meeting that the cracks were lengthening daily.

“Despite these admissions and the knowledge that the cracks were growing in size, EOR stated more than once that the cracks did not present any safety concerns,” the report stated.

Miami-based Networking Engineering Services Inc., doing business as Bolton Perez and Associates Inc., was retained by the university to be the construction engineer and inspector of the project, but BPA failed to classify the cracks, which were structural in nature, in accordance with state transportation department requirements, according to the report.

“BPA, as a CEI, was expected to exercise its own independent professional judgement in accordance with their contract with FIU and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) requirements,” the report stated. “With intimate knowledge of extensive cracking on the bridge, BPA failed to recognize that the bridge was in danger of collapsing, and did not recommend to FIU, (Munilla Construction Management Inc.) or others to close the street and shore the bridge, regardless of the opinion held by the EOR.”

FIGG and BPA are both contesting the serious citation issued to each company for their alleged violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s general duty close and the respective $12,934 fines proposed by OSHA last year, according to agency records.

“The OSHA FIU Pedestrian Bridge report is factually inaccurate and incomplete and includes errors and flawed analyses,” FIGG said in an emailed statement. “It does not include an evaluation of many important factors pertinent to the construction process leading up to the accident. Additionally, it has not been reviewed by any other entities involved in the accident investigation. FIGG disagrees with the conclusions in the OSHA report.”

Miami-based Munilla, the design-build contractor, was aware that the cracks were “getting larger” as reported by MCM superintendent and quality control personnel and should have informed the engineer of record that his assumption that the cracks had not grown in size was invalid, according to the report.

Munilla “deferred to the decision of the EOR and failed to exercise its own independent professional judgement, as a constructor of the bridge, to close the traffic on SW 8th Street until the cause of the cracks were conclusively determined by EOR and peer reviewed,” the report stated. “MCM had extensive construction experience in concrete structures and had intimate knowledge of the magnitude of cracks which were growing in size daily. MCM’s deference to EOR … and failure to exercise their own independent judgment with regard to implementing necessary safety measures were unreasonable.”

Munilla is currently contesting two serious citations for deficiencies in personal fall arrest systems and a combined $25,868 proposed penalty, according to OSHA records.

“MCM is reviewing OSHA’s findings and conclusions,” a spokesman said in a statement. “Our company fully cooperated with OSHA’s investigation from day one and we appreciate their efforts. If MCM determines that any of the information contained in the report should be supplemented, we will bring it to OSHA’s attention immediately.”

Pompano Beach, Florida-based Structural Technologies LLC, which was contracted to furnish post-tensioning for the bridge project, is also contesting two serious citations for deficiencies in personal fall arrest systems and a combined $25,868 proposed penalty, according to OSHA records.

Homestead, Florida-based The Structural Group of South Florida Inc., a concrete subcontractor on the project, is also contesting its serious citation for failure to properly rig a fall arrest system and proposed $9,054 fine, according to OSHA records.

Spokespersons for the other companies could not be immediately reached for comment.


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