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Overpass Deaths Underscore Safety as Global Link

Overpass Deaths Underscore Safety as Global Link

Kolkata, India: The March 31 flyover collapse killed 26 and injured more than 100. (Photos: The Wire)

Kolkata, India: The March 31 flyover collapse killed 26 and injured more than 100. (Photos: The Wire)

  • Third World or first, the construction industry still ranks among the deadliest;
  • Kolkata "flyover tragedy" kills dozens, leads to 10 arrests for murder, attempted murder;
  • Chicago collapse kills demolition firm employee, triggers OSHA investigation.

by MICHAEL ARMSTRONG | April 13, 2016

Almost 8,000 miles separate Kolkata, India and Chicago, IL, but in recent weeks, these two global metropolises both experienced fatal construction accidents that underscore how dangerous this industry still is, and how site safety is hardly a Third World problem.

By day, the intersection of Kali Krishna and Rabindra Sarani streets is abuzz with traffic and pedestrians visiting local shops or eating in open-air restaurants. This area of Kolkata is not unlike countless other urban areas in India where the density of street-level commerce routinely spills over into the streets, slowing vehicular traffic. To ease the crush of roadway congestion, local authorities hired IVRCL to construct a 2.5-km-long overpass to route traffic above the masses.

On March 31, just past noon local time, a 100-m section of the overpass collapsed onto the street below, killing 26 people and injuring nearly 100 others. As of this week, 10 IVRCL officials have been arrested in connection with the incident, and are being charged with murder, attempted murder, and criminal conspiracy, according to local press reports. One IVRCL representative actually told reporters that the collapse was "an act of God."

Weakened: Prof. Niyogi

Weakened: Prof. Niyogi

Maybe so, but coincidentally, concrete had just been poured the night before for the section of the overpass that fell the next day. “Since the concretization was done yesterday, the concrete remains in a weak state in which it has weight but has not acted as the load-bearing structure,” said Arup Guha Niyogi, a civil engineering professor at Jadavpur University, speaking to reporters on the day of the tragedy.

Prof. Niyogi explained that newly poured concrete should be supported by temporary scaffolding until it sets. However, videos and other images captured before and during the collapse show no temporary scaffolding or protective barriers in place to keep pedestrians from entering the construction site.

Amid the flurry of finger-pointing to follow the tragedy, other reports alleged that IVRCL officials had been informed of faulty materials, yet used them anyway. The company denies the claim. The flyover work actually began in 2009 and had been expected to take just 18 months to finish. 

India needs to work towards a comprehensive accident-prevention plan, the first step to which is building a reliable information database
— BHARAT DOGRA, The Wire, March 31, 2016

Meanwhile, half a world away, lest we think such woes only happen in the developing world, a construction worker in Chicago was killed April 5, also while working on an overpass. Employees of Elgin IL-based Omega Demolition were removing a beam from an overhead bridge on Interstate 90 in northwest Des Plaines around 3 am when it slid off its supports and onto workers in lift baskets.

Preventable: Daylight illuminates last week's early morning accident scene along Chicago's I-90 expressway.

Preventable: Daylight illuminates last week's early morning accident scene along Chicago's I-90 expressway.

Reports allege that a strap or chain supporting the beam failed while it was being removed.

An OSHA spokesperson stated that these types of accidents are preventable, provided OSHA standards and regulations are followed. OSHA officials have opened an investigation into Omega Demolition and NYC-based Judlau Contracting.

While the circumstances and toll from the collapse of these two overpasses were very different, both serve as sorry reminders that all the safety technology in the world cannot save lives unless the workers in the field actually have it at their disposal and use it.

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