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Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Project

Painter's Helper Falls to Death From Bridge Pier

A 24 year-old painter's helper fell 140 feet to his death from the supporting pier of a large bridge. The victim was wearing a safety belt, but had not secured his lanyard to a safety line.


The victim was employed by a large national bridge maintenance company which painted bridges and installed rigging for scaffolds. The company had been contracted to install a basket lift in preparation for inspection of the bridge by engineers. The lift, suspended on a wire rope by an electric winch, was to carry engineers as they inspected the concrete supporting pier for structural defects. Although hired as a painter's helper, the victim had been asked to help install the lift. With the company for only a week and a half, this was his first day on the job.

The top of the supporting pier is located beneath the roadway of the bridge. To reach it, workers must descend through a locked hatchway at the north side of the road surface. By climbing down a permanent ladder with handrails, they emerge onto the northern end of the pier, which is protected by a railing. A six-foot wide walkway leads to the southern end. The walkway has no railing and is only five feet high; most workers must bend over to walk across. The walkway is permanently equipped with a horizontal static safety line, mounted 12 inches in from the edge of the pier.

The Incident

At the time of the incident, a four-person crew had installed the rigging for the basket lift at the southern end of the pier. Two members of the crew remained on the road level of the bridge and planned to lower the lift to the top of the pier. The victim and his supervisor descended to the pier through the hatchway; they were to secure the lift once it was lowered to them.

After they descended to the pier, the supervisor crossed the walkway to the southern end of the pier, followed by the victim. Both men wore safety belts with the lanyards wrapped around their waists. Contrary to safety procedures, the supervisor did not attach his lanyard to the static safety line but held onto the line with his hand as they crossed the pier. When he reached the other side, he attached his lanyard to a vertical safety rope that had been installed for use by workers in the lift.

There were no witnesses to the fall. The victim, who was new to this type of work, also did not attach his lanyard to the horizontal static line. As he crossed the pier, he fell 140 feet to the wet mud below. He was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency medical personnel. The supervisor did not see him fall; he had walked around a bridge pylon which blocked his view.


  • Employers must stress the continuous use of fall protection. Safe work practices must be emphasized by safety training and personal example (in this case by the supervisor attaching his lanyard to the static safety line.)

  • Any worker in danger of falling over 25 feet must use fall protection. A variety of different systems are available, including safety belts, safety nets, scaffolds, and catch platforms. The use of fall protection is required under federal OSHA regulations.
Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Project

The New Jersey Department of Health, in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is currently conducting a research study of work-related fatal injuries. This project, known as FACE (Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation), seeks to identify the factors that contribute to fatal falls and machine related fatalities. The FACE study will help in the development and use of improved safety measures for preventing fatal injuries in the future.

We hope you find the FACE Facts informative and that you will share it with others. If you have any comments or questions, please call the FACE Project at (609) 984-1863.

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Last Modified: Tuesday, 17-Jul-12 14:12:42