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Construction firm should have known excavator weight risk: Judge


A circuit court judge dismissed a construction company’s petition to review an Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission decision affirming a citation following a bridge collapse.

In Francis Palo Inc. v. Secretary of Labor, Judge Julio Fuentes in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia declined to review the commission decision on Friday, finding that substantial evidence supported an administrative law judge’s ruling that due diligence by the company would have prevented the collapse that injured two workers.

Francis J. Palo Inc., a construction company based in Clarion, Pennsylvania, petitioned for review of an OSHRC decision that the company violated workplace safety guidelines.

Palo had a contract from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to demolish and reconstruct a bridge in Ridgeway, Pennsylvania. The company’s proposed reconstruction plan, which was approved by PDOT, called for demolishing and building the bridge in halves to allow traffic access on one side while the other was being rebuilt.

As the company worked to make cuts in the bridge, half of the bridge collapsed from the center. The excavator and two workers fell during the collapse and both were injured.

A U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigator determined that the construction company violated OSHA guidelines by parking the excavator on the bridge without ensuring it had sufficient strength to support it and issued a citation. Palo contested the citation on the basis it lacked the requisite knowledge of the violation. An administrative law judge concluded that Palo failed to engage in “reasonably diligent efforts” to assess the strength of the bridge and affirmed the citation. Palo appealed to the commission, which declined to review the case. The construction company then appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appellate court dismissed Palo’s petition for review and affirmed the administrative judge’s decision. The court held that the administrative judge had substantial evidence to conclude that the construction company had constructive knowledge of the issue. Palo executives testified that they knew of and approved the use of the excavator on the bridge, and knew that the weight of the equipment was an important fact to consider. The administrative judge found that the company did not, however, take actions to determine if the bridge could support the weight after it cut through some of its abutments, and could have discovered this through reasonable diligence, the appellate court noted.

Although Palo argued that the administrative judge committed errors in handling evidence during the hearing, the appellate court disagreed, finding no evidence that the admission of certain evidence would have changed the outcome of the case.

Palo declined to comment on the decision.




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