Worker dies Sunday after fall from bridge scaffolding to levee
DONALDSONVILLE — An Ohio painting company whose employee died after falling 100 feet from the Sunshine Bridge as he worked on a Department of Transportation and Development rehabilitation project Sunday had been cited by federal regulators in 2010 for violating safety rules aimed at preventing such falls.
The North Star Painting Co. worker, Marcos Rodregues, 36, address unknown, fell shortly before 3:45 p.m. Sunday and landed on the west bank levee along the Mississippi River, said Maj. Sid Berthelot, who heads the St. James Parish Sheriff’s Criminal Investigation Division, on Wednesday.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which oversees worker safety for the nation, is investigating the incident, an agency spokesman said. OSHA also stopped jobs on the bridge project in which workers must use climbing protection, such as being tethered to safety equipment.
“That work has been halted until OSHA completes their investigation,” said Lauren Lee, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation and Development.
In July 2010, OSHA fined one of North Star’s operations in Shippingport, Pa., $1,250 after an inspection found a serious violation involving the company’s practices with fall protection systems, OSHA’s online database shows.
OSHA and the company, which is based in Youngstown, Ohio, reached an informal settlement on July 30, 2010, for a reduced fine of $940 after the violation was corrected. Two other inspections of North Star operations in Pennsylvania in 2009 did not result in fines, according to the database.
The $25.1 million DOTD project on the Sunshine Bridge involves cleaning, structurally rehabilitating and repainting the main truss spans of the metal cantilever bridge, which connects La. 70 over the Mississippi River.
Berthelot said another worker who reported the incident to 911 said he was standing next to Rodregues on scaffolding when he fell.
Rodregues was taken Sunday to Prevost Memorial Hospital in Donaldsonville where he was pronounced dead, Berthelot said.
State, federal, parish and company officials released little or no additional information about what led up to Rodregues’ death or the location of his hometown.
It’s not clear if Rodregues was wearing a safety harness when he fell.
But his fall was within sight of North Star office trailers and a lay-down yard along La. 18 and under the bridge.
A knock on a door to one of the trailers went unanswered Wednesday afternoon. The portable trailer had an Ohio license plate. A pickup parked next to the trailer had an Ohio State University sticker in a rear window.
A woman answering the telephone Wednesday for North Star in Youngstown said the persons who could answer questions about the death were not in the office, and hung up the phone.
Called immediately back, the woman would not take a reporter’s telephone number, said the company has no comment and hung up again.
Brian Buckel, a senior vice president with Gulf Engineers and Consultants, said North Star had not started painting and was still setting up rigging and doing other preparatory work.
GEC is DOTD’s consulting project engineer, which includes construction engineering and inspection.
Buckel said the company did not have an inspector onsite Sunday because work had not begun.
As a result, he said, he did not have more details about what happened. He said North Star was not a subcontractor of GEC but contracted directly with DOTD to paint the bridge.
Buckel said OSHA inspectors were at the site Wednesday and also either late Monday or early Tuesday.
The section of bridge over the levee has trusses that run underneath the bridge deck just as it crosses the river. That area did not appear to have safety netting Wednesday.
Ropes and other rigging were in place, as well as a corrugated, silver-colored metal sheeting that ran under the bridge’s support trusses.
Lee said work halted by OSHA includes painting the truss spans. She said contractors are continuing to place concrete barriers to create a work space for themselves on the bridge deck. She said some North Star workers are still on the job.
Lee and DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett referred other questions about the incident to GEC, North Star and OSHA.
OSHA spokesman Juan Rodriguez said Wednesday that he could provide no further details about the fall while OSHA’s investigation is open. He also could not provide the circumstances surrounding North Star’s 2010 violation.