Bridge collapsed because engineer’s design of falsework was negligent under OHSA: Court

An Ontario engineer has been found guilty of negligently designing falsework (supports intended to provide stability while the concrete is forming) for a bridge that collapsed.

Six workers were injured when the falsework for the bridge collapsed in the final stages of a “concrete pour”. The bridge crossed the Eighteen Mile River near Lucknow, Ontario.

Subsection 31(2) of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act allows for charges against a licensed architect or engineer where a worker is endangered as a result of the architect’s or engineer’s negligent or incompetent certification required under the OHSA or advice that is given. These charges are separate from any disciplinary charges that could be laid against an engineer by Professional Engineers Ontario.

The court found that the engineer’s falsework design made the falsework incapable of withstanding all loads and forces likely to be applied to it. In particular, because the bridge crossed the river at an angle, the engineer had designed the horizontal and diagonal braces to be clipped to the corners – not flush with the sides – of the vertical supports. The court found that the corner clips did not provide enough friction to have a sufficiently strong connection against sideways forces. The court relied on expert evidence of other engineers who testified as witnesses.

The court imposed a fine of $10,000 on the engineer.

This decision shows that not only employers and supervisors can be convicted and fined under the OHSA. Where accidents occur, engineers and architects who have given related advice should themselves obtain legal advice from a health and safety lawyer about their personal risk.

R. v. James McGerrigle (Ontario Court of Justice): http://www.canlii.org/en/on/oncj/doc/2010/2010oncj421/2010oncj421.pdf