Five people working inside the Highway 99 tunnel project near Seattle Center fell nearly 25 feet Thursday afternoon while working on a section of rebar attached to an elevator shaft.
Four construction workers were injured, one seriously, Thursday when they fell nearly 25 feet at the Highway 99 tunnel project near Seattle Center.
The men were installing steel reinforcing bar for a concrete wall when the wall somehow gave way, said a statement by Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), contractor for the 2-mile project.
One worker suffered a broken arm. The three others were able to walk out of the tunnel for treatment of back and neck pain, said Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore. A fifth worker who fell was not hurt, authorities said.
The state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is looking into the accident, while the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) released a statement saying it was still gathering information.
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“Safety is STP’s and WSDOT’s number one priority,” it said. “Right now, their field crews are focusing on making sure the site is secured.” Standing outside the accident site Thursday, state spokeswoman Laura Newborn declined to comment further.
Thursday’s incident happened near Sixth Avenue North and Thomas Street, near the eventual north portal of the tunnel. Tunnel-boring machine Bertha has been stuck at the opposite end, in Sodo near the Seattle waterfront, for more than a year.
The contractors have touted a solid safety record, to the point where L&I gave them a one-third discount on workers-comp insurance. Last year, STP reported 3¼ million hours without a lost-time injury.
These kinds of walls, where concrete is poured between forms into a rebar cage, are commonly built in highway megaprojects by teams of union ironworkers. They steadily insert and tie the rebar rods incrementally, making it odd that five workers would suddenly be knocked off balance.
STP has a policy of requiring harnesses or tethers.
Several tunnel tasks are considered more hazardous, such as fixing a cutting head on the boring machine under hyperbaric pressure, or removing temporary braces from a suspended load or underground vault.
Two firefighters went into the tunnel to carry the most severely injured man out, Moore said.
The worker was placed in a rescue basket and carried nearly a half-mile to waiting medics, said Moore.
The four injured workers, from 23 to 36 years old, were taken to Harborview Medical Center. As of Friday morning, the man with the broken arm remained in serious but stable condition in intensive care. The other three were released, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said Friday in an email.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, in Lake City at news conference about measures to improve traffic safety around the city, said about the accident: “This is not an issue about the tunnel. This is an issue of worker safety.”