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Bellingham construction company fined by state following fatal fall from bridge

The Beverly Railroad Bridge historic bridge, which is now part of the Palouse-to-Cascades trail, where a man died after falling approximately 60 feet from the bridge deck to an island below. Source: WA State L&I Department

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Bellingham-based BOSS Construction Inc. (BOSS) has been fined $284,000 by the state following an investigation into the death of a 39-year-old Toppenish man who fell from a bridge over the Columbia River last year.

The man had been employed by the company during a restoration project on the Beverly Railroad Bridge in August 2021. BOSS was installing a new concrete deck for the historic bridge, which is now part of the Palouse-to-Cascades trail, when the man fell approximately 60 feet from the bridge deck to an island below.

BOSS was fined for 2 “egregious serious willful violations” of workplace safety regulations due to not ensuring fall-protection measures were in place, according to a news release issued by the state Department of Labor and Industries last week.

State inspectors determined that many of the workers did not use fall protection on the day of the incident and on multiple other days.

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“Managers and a foreman were working side-by-side with workers—none of them wearing fall protection,” said Craig Blackwood, L&I’s assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “That tells us the employer knowingly allowed employees to work on the bridge without using the required safety equipment.”

Multiple employee interviews corroborated the lack of fall protection during the project and spoke to a lack of safety enforcement leading up to the fatal fall.

L&I inspectors observed a catenary line—a horizontal line anchored at each end that workers can attach to for safety—installed on only one side of the bridge deck. The line spanned approximately 2,600 feet, but did not span the entire 3,052 feet of the bridge. That left about 200 feet on each end on one side of the bridge without a line for workers to attach to as they walked on the bridge. The other side of the bridge had no catenary line and was completely unguarded for the full span. Guardrails had been removed several months prior to the incident leaving a flat, unguarded surface.

L&I also cited Boss Construction for not having a rescue boat immediately available and not having ring buoys with ropes or life vests that are required for workers not using fall protection while working over water.

The work on the bridge was being done under contract with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. In a separate incident, Parks was also fined for having an employee on the bridge without fall protection.

Boss Construction has until Feb. 8 to appeal the citation and fines. Money paid as a result of a citation goes into the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

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Washington State Department of Labor & Industries news release (January 27, 2022)

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