Highly Commendable

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 safest available.”

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,” said Harbor.

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.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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