- By Jerry Laws
- Jul 03, 2007
THE fall hazards on a multi-span Interstate 30 bridge construction project just west
of downtown Dallas could take your breath away. As I drove past most afternoons,
I was so focused on the height and length of the bridge beams that I never thought
about the 10-foot fall hazards to which the contractor’s engineers can be exposed
before the beams even come off their delivery trucks. But the contractor, Austin Bridge
& Road, was thinking about both, and it began working on a solution roughly two
years ago, said Jim Harbor, the company’s safety, health and environment manager.
An employee-owned company, Austin Bridge & Road installs horizontal lifelines on
bridge beams before they’re taken off the truck. Austin engineers designed the lifelines
and drop-tested them to 110 percent of the expected load; the company also obtained
approval from the Texas Department of Transportation’s Bridge Division and had the
necessary change made to the beams’ structure, said Harbor.
“We’re doing this on all of our projects now,” he said. The practice is being used at
approximately 60 projects throughout Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and
Phoenix, Ariz. Harbor said some other contractors are using a similar strategy. “I think
this safety practice instills a legitimate sense of security in our people before the beams
leave the ground,” he said. “In the past, we’ve tried everything [including] some manufacturers’
systems. Each system had its own negatives. We believe our system is the
This strategy has reduced on-site fall risks, which are among the biggest hazards
faced by the company’s workers. The lifelines are competitive in cost with what is commercially
available; the lion’s share of the cost was design and development. “From
design to implementation, our employee-owners believed in the success of this initiative,”
I consider it an elegant solution to a high-level problem on one of the most visible
construction projects in North Texas—and now that I know how it came about, I
appreciate all the more seeing the bridge take shape.
This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.