A construction worker from Green Bay was killed and a crane operator seriously injured when a crane lifting a 52-ton concrete girder onto the Butte des Morts bridge collapsed Thursday morning.
It was the second death of a construction worker on the U.S. Highway 41 expansion project this year. Joseph R. Bidler, 35, was working within the construction zone when the crane collapsed and killed him around 9 a.m. Bidler was a driver for Waukesha-based Spancrete, where he was employed for 11 years.
“Spancrete is a family company, and Joseph is a part of our family. This tragic accident touches each and every one of us,” John Nagy, chairman of Spancrete wrote in a statement.
Authorities would not release the name of the injured crane operator until family members were notified. The cause of the accident is under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The $54 million expansion of the Butte des Morts bridge is the largest part of the U.S. 41 reconstruction project in Winnebago County. Work includes widening the bridge from four to eight lanes and adding a pedestrian trail with fishing access, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
An OSHA investigator arrived at the scene of the accident Thursday morning, said Rhonda Burke, deputy director of public affairs for the U.S. Department of Labor. She said the investigation could take as long as six months.
“Ultimately they’re looking for any safety or health violations that contributed to the workers death on this day,” Burke said.
OSHA records provided by the U.S. Department of Labor show Spancrete has been cited four times since 2010 for violations related to a lack of fall protection and training for its employees. Three of the violations were categorized as serious and carried fines of $5,500, $3,000 and $750.
The crane operator is employed by Lunda Construction Company, according to the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department. A woman who answered the phone at the Black River Falls company directed all questions to the state DOT.
Lunda Construction has been inspected by OSHA four times and cited for a serious violation once and other-than-serious violations four times since 2009. None of the citations involved cranes.
The most recent violation involved an employee traveling from an aerial lift to a work surface without adequate fall protection in April 2012. The company was fined $750. The largest fine of $3,000 was issued for a training violation in October 2010.
U.S. 41 Projects Group Chief Brian Roper said Thursday’s accident occurred when two cranes resting on barges in the water were lifting a 104,000-pound concrete girder and one of the cranes collapsed.
The girders, manufactured by Spancrete, are long concrete beams that lie on top of the bridge’s support pillars and serve as an underlay for the driving lanes. Bidler was the driver of the truck that delivered the girders, but Roper said he didn’t know where Bidler was located when the crane collapsed.
The cranes were lifting their fourth girder for the day onto the southbound side of the new bridge at the time of the collapse, Roper said. The construction crew was scheduled to lift 12 girders, but all construction work has been temporarily suspended during the accident investigation.
DOT spokesman Kris Schuller said work will resume when OSHA investigators complete their investigation and release the scene.
“The hope is to start removing the damaged crane on Friday, remove the damaged beams and get a new crane in to set final beams,” Schuller said. “If all goes well, that could start early next week.”
The left lanes of the highway were closed in both directions for about an hour following the accident to allow emergency vehicles to pass through, Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department Captain Todd Christie said. Traffic delays continued for hours after lanes were reopened, he said.
This is the second accident this year involving a crane working on the U.S. Highway 41 expansion and redesign project. OSHA estimates 89 people die annually from crane-related accidents, according to an August 2010 report accompanying proposed revisions to safety standards.
Raymond Ashenbrenner, 58, of Black River Falls, was killed April 20 while unloading a crane in a work area just south of Scheuring Road in Brown County.
Ashenbrenner worked for Lunda Construction, a subcontractor to Brownsville-based Michels Corp. on the project. OSHA is still investigating the cause of that accident.