The contractor demolishing half of the Pennsy Bridge in Ridgway in 2015 when the structure collapsed has been found to have violated workplace safety guidelines, according to a court decision last week.
Contractor Francis J. Palo Inc. of Clarion had been fined $9,800 by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent agency that decides penalties resulting from inspections by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The contractor filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit asking for the situation to be reviewed. Friday’s decision, with an opinion penned by Judge Julio M. Fuentes, upheld the earlier penalty issued in the matter.
In 2015, Palo held a $2.2 million contract from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to demolish and reconstruct a bridge along U.S. Route 219 in Ridgway, known locally as the Pennsy Bridge.
The bridge had an arch shape, and Palo’s plan was to demolish and rebuild the bridge in halves. The plan included the statement “at no time during the demolition process will men or equipment work on or from the component being demolished,” reads the court’s opinion.
However, in June of 2015, Palo had parked an excavator on the part of the bridge being demolished, and had cut the bridge free from its abutments. The bridge was no longer strong enough to hold the excavator and on June 18, 2015, it collapsed in a “V” shape, injuring four people — two who fell with it, and two who were under it.
The administrative law judge who originally reviewed the case heard testimony from the review commission’s expert, Mohammed Ayub.
“Ayub testified that, because the bridge was arched, its structure directed its load to its supporting abutments,” the opinion stated. “When the bridge half was cut free from the abutments on either end, the half could no longer bear as much weight as it could before” and collapsed under the weight of the estimated 50-ton excavator.
Ayub testified, and the administrative judge agreed, that a “reasonably diligent contractor” would have analyzed the bridge to be sure it could support that weight before parking the machinery there.
Palo officials testified that they relied on their prior experience to conclude the bridge could hold that weight. However, the Palo employee who developed the demolition plan testified that he had limited experience with arch-shaped bridges, and thought the arch was decorative rather than structural, the opinion stated.
The appeals judges concluded that sufficient evidence “exists to support the administrative law judge’s finding that Palo could have discovered through reasonable diligence that the bridge would not support the excavator’s weight,” according to the opinion.
Palo’s attorneys had also argued that the administrative law judge erred in admitting some evidence and in according little weight to another exhibit. However, the appeals judges said there was no abuse of discretion, and that they saw “no reason to disturb” the prior decision.
The review was dismissed and the fine stands.