Two articles about the Cooper River Bridge safety net that saved 5 construction workers' lives.
Story last updated at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, January 17, 2004
4-ton chunk rips loose from crane atop new bridge
BY JESSICA VANEGEREN
Of The Post and Courier Staff
Photo by : LEROY BURNELL/STAFF
A 4-ton chunk of wood and steel at the top of the new Cooper River bridge ripped loose from a crane Friday and dropped several hundred feet before a net strung above the heads of crewmen working below caught it.
About 7:40 a.m., the construction form broke free from ropes and cables holding it to a crane on top of one of the bridge's two diamond-shaped towers. Before falling into a safety net about 200 feet below, the heap of material hit a temporary metal crossbeam that stretches between the tower's sides and broke into pieces.
The safety net on one of the towers of the new Cooper River bridge holds debris Friday after a 4-ton chunk of material ripped loose from a crane on top of the tower about 7:40 a.m.
At the time of the fall, workers were attempting to place one of four pieces of formwork that, when joined, create a square. The completed square encases a rebar cage, and the space between the cage and the formwork is filled with concrete. The process creates the walls of the diamond-shaped towers.
Separate statements from the state Department of Transportation and Palmetto Bridge Constructors, the bridge's contractor, said no one was injured, safety mechanisms worked properly and the accident will not delay the project's completion date. The DOT expects the $632 million, eight-lane bridge to be completed by the summer of 2005.
"There apparently was a rigging problem," said Bobby Clair, DOT director of engineering for the bridge project. "Whether it was the ropes or the cables, something came loose from the lifting mechanism."
Safety officers will investigate how it happened, Clair said, but he was not able to elaborate further because he had not received completed reports. The contractor has five safety inspectors on staff, he said.
Two PBC employees on the site at the time of the accident, who did not want to be identified for fear of being fired, confirmed Clair's speculation about the cause of the accident.
They said the load was improperly lifted. They said the crew on top of the tower ran a strap through slots in the formwork instead of running a metal bar through the formwork. Without the bar, the load was not distributed properly and broke away from the strap that hooked it to the crane.
The two men, who were interviewed at The Post and Courier, said the incident Friday was "not an accident but an eye-opener." They said they came forward because of their safety concerns for other workers on the construction site.
"It could be true, I haven't heard about it. I can't deny it," Clair said of the workers' account. "If someone intentionally violated a safety policy, they would be terminated. Employees know what the rules are before they come to work."
Wade Watson, a project manager with PBC, said the company has a list of proper lift regulations that are dictated by the weight of the load. He said job supervisors throughout the project are aware of all lifting requirements. If the lift occurred as his employees said, it would have violated policy.
"They know how to lift and rig loads," Watson said. "We don't want people to violate our system."
Lesia Kudelka, spokeswoman with the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said the Office of Occupational Safety and Health automatically investigates accidents when someone is killed or three or more workers are injured and have to spend the night in the hospital. Non-injury accidents such as Friday's are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Kudelka added that the department "is aware of the near-miss accident."
"We are evaluating whether to look into it," she said. She added that because the bridge's towers are over the water, the department's national office, rather than the state office, might look into the incident.
Watson said that while Friday's accident was unfortunate, it illustrated the effectiveness of the safety net.
"The good news is that nobody was hurt," he said.
So far, there have been two other accidents during the bridge construction. During the summer, a woman driving a minivan hit a 50-foot-long steel beam that fell from the bridge construction site and onto the northbound lane of U.S. Highway 17. She was treated at East Cooper Regional Medical Center and released.
In the fall, a worker inside a tower was saved when his safety harness caught him as he fell.
Comparatively, 14 men died during construction of the John P. Grace Memorial Bridge, the span that the new bridge will replace. The deadliest day was Dec. 1, 1928, when seven men died while completing one of the anchor pipes. The other workers were killed in a variety of ways, including by electrocution and in a fall from the bridge's upper framework.Jessica Vanegeren covers traffic and transportation. Contact her at (843) 937-5562 or
Story last updated at 8:27 a.m. Sunday, February 1, 2004
Industry experts hail catch as near-miracle
BY JESSICA VANEGEREN
Of The Post and Courier Staff
Five construction workers on the new Cooper River bridge probably owe their lives to a net that prevented 4 tons of construction material from crushing them as they worked.
The nylon net strung high overhead was designed to catch an overweight construction worker, not 8,000 pounds of falling debris. The big catch is being hailed in construction circles as something of a miracle.
Manufactured by Sinco Netting Solutions of Middletown, Conn., the net is designed to catch 350 pounds worth of man or materials from a 50-foot drop. Last month, it caught an 8,000-pound chunk of tower wall that fell 160 feet after slipping from a crane rigging on the east tower on the Mount Pleasant side of the bridge.
"That's like dropping your car onto a Bounty paper towel," said Brian Clarke, an engineer with Sinco Netting.
If the net had not held, the debris could have crushed five men and splintered a portion of the bridge's unfinished concrete roadway 300 feet below. Instead, no one was injured.
"Management on this job must be on their knees thanking God that net held," said Ed Ritz, owner of International Cordage East, a Connecticut-based net manufacturer. "The fact it did hold borders on a miracle."
Word of the net's big catch is spreading across the country.
Ritz said he found out about it while at a home builders trade show in Las Vegas. A Charleston business owner who also had a booth at the show asked whether he had heard about the net that caught a chunk of a bridge that was being built in Charleston. Ritz was amazed by pictures he saw on the Internet.
"For people in the business (of building safety nets), this is a big deal," he said.
Employees with Sinco Netting, which sold 15 nets to the bridge's contractor, Palmetto Bridge Constructors, also learned about their product in a roundabout way.
Mark MacKain, the company's Southeast regional manager, was watching a game in North Carolina with Ralph Lundy, head coach of the College of Charleston soccer team, when he heard about the net's super-strength.
Industry standards require fall protection for crews working in elevated work areas. By those standards, nets designed to catch falling workers must be hung no more than 25 feet from the work area.
On the Cooper River bridge project, workers are protected from falling by a temporary wooden walkway and railing built around each new section of the tower. The nets were hung 160 feet below the top of tower and were intended to catch relatively small objects.
The mass of tower wall fell after a supervisor violated proper lifting procedures, said Wade Watson, a project manager with Palmetto Bridge Constructors. The supervisor was fired three days after the Jan. 16 accident.
Workers on the scene were told by the supervisor not to use a metal lifting bar. Instead, the piece of the tower wall was hoisted by a strap. The piece of formwork, a combination of wood and steel that eventually becomes a part of the concrete tower wall, ripped loose from the crane and the faulty rigging system.
"We take a hard line on safety," Watson said. "The employee violated lift procedures. He knew it, and he was terminated."
Last year, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Labor, 21 construction workers were killed while working on bridges, tunnels and elevated construction sites. Of the 21 workers, six died after falling from a work area without a safety net in place.
Inspectors with the state Office of Occupational Safety and Health, an agency under the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, are investigating the accident.
Jessica Vanegeren covers traffic and transportation. Contact her at (843) 937-5562 or
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