A worker who was assigned the job of sandblasting a Mississippi River bridge was killed when a towboat hit the scaffolding he was working from last year. The worker was performing maintenance on the Eads Bridge in St. Louis when the towboat struck. The worker fell and landed on the deck of the boat with the scaffolding, and did not survive. Both the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the Coast Guard are investigating the accident, however, the official cause has yet to be released.
The channel reduced to 300 feet inside the center span of the bridge to allow workers to perform maintenance on it. The towboat was initially located within the 300-foot span. However, the current pushed it outside of its designated area. The bridge worker was sanding-blasting underneath a canvas that blocked his view, so he could not have seen the towboat approaching against its volition. The boat hit the scaffolding almost precisely where the worker was standing.
What Caused the Towboat to Hit the St. Louis Bridge?
The bridge already has a rather low clearance. Unfortunately, on this particular day, waters were high and the current was unusually fast, which made the clearance even smaller for boats. Typical water levels around this area of the Mississippi River are somewhere around 15 or 20 feet. However, on this day, water levels measured around 35 feet, according to the Coast Guard. Factoring in the presence of a hanging scaffold decreases the clearance even further.
The towboat hit the scaffolding hard enough to damage the pilothouse and slice the navigation equipment right from the roof. Additionally, the underside of the bridge and scaffolding sustained damage.
Operators Must Proceed With Caution During High Water Levels and Fast Currents
Granted, navigating in high waters and fast currents presents its own challenges, but why wasn’t the captain or any other crewmember for that matter aware of the proximity to the bridge? Was there any effort to try to navigate away from the bridge? Why did the towboat drift outside of the 300-foot span?
Operators must always be cautious when dealing with high waters and strong currents, as the level of danger drastically increases in these scenarios. Hopefully, the Coast Guard and OSHA’s investigation yield more information for this worker’s family.