2 decorative panels topple, injuring worker driving vehicle on I-225 light rail project in Aurora

Worker suffers broken ankle, cut near eye

AURORA, Colo. - A construction worker was injured Wednesday morning when two concrete panels -- each weighing three tons --  toppled onto a vehicle he was driving on the side of Interstate 225 in Aurora, officials said.

The man was treated for a broken ankle and a cut near his left eye, said Bob Wilson, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The worker has been released from the hospital. "Fortunately, he was not seriously injured," said Tom Clark, a Senior Vice President for SEMA Construction Inc., the injured worker's employer.

The accident happened about 10 a.m. on a RTD light rail construction project along I-225 near Yale Avenue.

While the investigation into the incident has just started, Clark said it appeared the concrete pads supporting the wall panels, which had been permanently locked into placed, had settled. This caused the walls to slip below the top brackets that were holding them upright.     

"The settlement caused them to settle just a little bit, so that the bracket at the top that was holding them into place didn’t hold them in place any longer," Clark said.

At least two of the concrete panels toppled onto a four-wheel hydraulic lift driven by the worker, an Aurora Fire official told 7NEWS. The portable lift is used to hoist workers.

CDOT's Wilson said, "The panel came down and hit the truck and hit him as a consequence and knocked him over. We're not sure if it was a mistake that was made, but right now they're doing an investigation."

Neighbor William Fune said the falling walls made a loud crash "and the whole house shook."

Wilson explained the panels collapsed because drainage was being installed in the area and the structures became compromised. A total of three panels fell or became dislodged.

SEMA's Clark said the Centennial-based company's engineers and officials from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration were on-site Wednesday, studying the wall foundations in an effort to determine what went wrong.

"We have a good safety record," Clark said.

Yet, Clark acknowledged that SEMA had a similar incident last year when a precast concrete panel toppled onto a worker at a Colorado construction site.

In that incident, a concrete wall panel was being held upright by temporary supports. A support slipped away and the wall toppled onto the worker, pinning him against the side of a ditch, Clark said. That injured worker has fully recovered, he added.

OSHA has cited SEMA Construction for 13 serious safety violations from 2004 through 2012. Aside from the toppling concrete panel in 2012, SEMA violations include workers not wearing protective helmets, a lack of safeguards to prevent workers from falls, placing employees at risk of being hit by "rough terrain fork-trucks" that were operating at night without lights and a lack of safeguards to prevent workers from being impaled on protruding steel reinforcing bars.