The lessons, it’s sad to say, are many.
Near the end of July, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced plans to bar one of the nation’s leading bridge engineering firms from doing any work on federally funded projects for 10 years.
As punitive as that might sound, six people died when the concrete trusses on a bridge designed by the firm for Florida International University collapsed onto a busy road.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the chief probable cause for the 2018 bridge failure was the work done by designers who, investigators said, underestimated the load on the bridge and overestimated its capacity.
When we talk about risk management, safety, of course, is always on the agenda. Think fall protection protocols, fleet safety, tool safety and more. The bridge collapse in Florida highlighted two more important questions: a) whether your crews are truly empowered to raise the alarm when they see something amiss and b) how well project leaders listen to warnings about quality control.
“The bridge was talking to them,” Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, was reported to have said at an agency board meeting in Washington. “It wasn’t just talking — it was screaming that there was something definitely wrong with this bridge. Yet no one was listening.”
Indeed, workers had documented growing cracks on the north end of the bridge during and after its installation. The 174-foot span, which had been prefabricated in a construction yard next to the roadway, collapsed five days after it was elevated into place.
The engineering firm has consistently denied responsibility for the design errors or errors in judgment during construction. But in a report, NTSB said that several members of the project team failed to exercise their “implied authority” to stop traffic beneath the incomplete structure as the cracks worsened.
Wait. Implied authority. What’s that?
Of the three types of “authority” recognized under our laws – there’s also “express” authority and “assumed” authority – implied authority can sound vague, but isn’t any less forgiving when it comes to liability questions.
Without getting too technical, implied authority is given in cases where someone (usually an employee) is wearing a company uniform or interacting with the public on behalf of a company or organization.
There are a number of ways to deal with this, but in our insurance-focused minds, a more robust quality control program is one of your best bets.
It sounds so obvious, but quality control should be a primary concern for all the members of your team. Managers should take responsibility for maintaining and improving quality control, while employees should be encouraged to offer new ideas.
By suggesting new work methods, by avoiding rework, and by avoiding long-term problems, good quality control can pay for itself.
All of this may be easier said than done.
The unique nature of each facility, variability in the workforce, the multitude of subcontractors and the cost of making necessary investments in education and procedures make quality control in construction difficult.
Yet what happened on that road in Miami in 2018 is a good reminder that a commitment to the highest quality control possible is the only way to go.
Robert Simones is an insurance advisor in the Construction Practice at CCIG. Reach him at Robert.Simones@thinkccig.com or at 720-212-2059.
CCIG is a Denver-area insurance, employee benefits and surety brokerage with clients nationwide. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We help you manage your long-term cost of insurance with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.