Inspection of bridges and related structures is an ongoing process that provides steady work for vast numbers of private contractors as well as a variety of government agencies.
These federal, state, and local transportation agencies place vital importance on, and invest significant funds in, the inspection of nearly 600,000 bridges across the United States each year.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Highway Administration notes on their website:
“Bridges are critical elements within the highway transportation network supporting commerce, economic vitality, and personal mobility. Every day, close to 4 billion vehicles cross bridges in the United States. The public expects these structures to be safe and to have the capability to support their transportation. The safety of the bridge network came into question in the late 1960s when, on December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge spanning the Ohio River between West Virginia and Ohio collapsed during rush-hour traffic. This catastrophic event resulted in 46 fatalities and numerous injuries, prompting national concern about bridge conditions and safety. Following this disastrous event, programs were established to ensure periodic safety inspection of bridges and provide mechanisms for funding of bridge replacement and rehabilitation needs. The primary bridge programs include the National Bridge Inspection Program (NBIP) and the associated Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program (HBRRP).”
Through periodic safety inspections, data are collected on the condition of primary components of a structure. Condition ratings are collected for the following components of a bridge:
- The bridge deck, including the wearing surface
- The superstructure, including all primary load-carrying members and connections
- The substructure, considering the abutments and all piers
- Culverts, recorded only for culvert designs
- Channel/channel protective systems, for all structures crossing waterways.
One of the major concerns for firms supplying under bridge inspection trucks is safety. This includes ensuring the safety of the bridges and structures being inspected and the safety of the inspection crews, commuters and pedestrians during inspections.
Being Safe Means Being Aware
As any contractor knows, accidents happen. However, the other side of that notion is that accidents can be prevented, as well.
A critical aspect of staying safe (and alive) when carrying out inspections with under bridge inspection trucks is being intentionally aware. This means awareness of safety standards, laws and requirements. And abiding by them. It also means being intentionally aware of what is being done each moment, how it’s being done, and what’s happening around the inspection site at all times.
Is this too idealistic? Not really. The sobering reality is that many accidents involving under bridge inspection trucks are the result of human error, or a combination of that with other elements. When an inspection is delayed and costs are incurred due to an accident, it impacts the company or agency doing the inspection.
But when workers or civilians are injured or killed, the cost and impact go far beyond schedules and budgets with long-lasting and tragic results.
Avoidable Accidents with Under Bridge Inspection Trucks
While the actual number of accidents involving under bridge inspection trucks each year is not tracked comprehensively, the consensus is that many could be prevented by more stringent safety measures and precautions on the part of the inspection crews and operators.
Here are examples of more notable incidents involving under bridge inspection trucks.
From an article at Paint Square:
In August 2015 in Connecticut an employee was killed after an on-site snooper truck tipped over and crushed him while setting up for a job.
Shortly after, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation about the incident and began collecting information and conducting interviews. This accident was the first of two that same week involving a snooper truck owned by the company.
In September 2018, the company’s owner and former equipment manager were indicted in Hartford, Connecticut’s U.S. District Court on two counts of false documents, one count of falsifying records in a federal investigation and two counts of wire fraud.
The charges stem from both defendants’ alleged roles occurring approximately between January 2012 and January 2015, in producing false Certificates of Unit Tests/Examinations of Material Handling Devices for UBI vehicles in addition to providing false information to OSHA during the investigation of the August 2015 death.
According to the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation, falsified examination certificates for the company’s UBI vehicle fleet. The false documents indicated that the vehicles had been inspected in compliance with federal requirements, although the parties involved knew that was incorrect.
The report also indicated that they issued these certificates and forwarded OSHA an internal fatality investigation report that detailed the accident was “attributable to operator error.”
A large truck with a specialized crane tipped over Monday on the Sakonnet River Bridge in Tiverton, R.I., stranding two workers inside the bucket of the crane and stopping traffic in both directions, officials said.
Two contractors from a private company were in the crane bucket when the truck tipped. A second vehicle, almost identical to the first one, was called to the scene to rescue the workers, Malachowski said. They were transferred from one bucket to the other and returned to the bridge.
The vehicle, called an under bridge inspection unit, was conducting a routine inspection for the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority at the time of the accident, said spokesman Jim Malachowski.
The workers followed safety protocols before deploying the arm, Malachowski said.
“There will be a full inspection into why this vehicle tipped when all the protocols and safety procedures were followed,” Malachowski said. “Anything they may learn from this will be incorporated into future safety procedures.”
“These are very common vehicles and they’re very useful,” he said. “They’re not supposed to tip over.”
OSHA usually conducts investigations of these types of accidents and their report results are often quite enlightening. Here’s an example of an incident report from 1987:
Truck Mounted Work Platform Fell Into Dam Spillway
EMPLOYEE #1 WAS WORKING ON A SNOOPER WORK PLATFORM SANDBLASTING THE THOMASTON DAM BRIDGE. THE OUTRIGGER WAS NOT EXTENDED ON THE PASSENGER SIDE OF THE SNOOPER TRUCK AND THE INTERLOCK MIRCO SWITCHES WERE NOT OPERABLE. WHEN EMPLOYEE #1 SWUNG THE WORK PLATFORM 180 DEGREES TO WORK ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRIDGE, THE TRUCK FELL OVER INTO THE DAM SPILLWAY. EMPLOYEE #1 WAS KILLED.
Safety Is Everyone’s Business
This can’t be stressed often enough and it’s critical for both our own employees as well as those of our customers. The introduction to the state Massachusetts’ (MassDOT) Bridge Inspection Handbook sums it up succinctly:
“Safety is everyone’s business. As an employer, MassDOT is obligated to promote job safety and furnish safe tools, equipment, and proper training. Supervisors must ensure that those under their supervision receive the proper training and that they practice safety at the work site.
When performing bridge inspections, MassDOT employs a minimum of two-person teams comprised of a Team Leader and a Team Member. If everyone does their share, accidents will be minimized.”
Contact us for more information.