- Fermilab’s $1 billion accelerator project in Batavia, Illinois, has been put on hold since a worker fell two stories on May 25, according to an accident investigation report from the Department of Energy.
- The accident spurred a lawsuit against Fermi Research Alliance, the operator of the site, Whittaker Construction, the general contractor, and subcontractors Harris Rebar Placing and Nucor Harris Rebar Midwest.
- James Daniels, a subcontracted ironworker on the project, fell from the top of a two-story wall during his first day on the job, suffering head trauma and multiple broken bones, according to documents filed in the Cook County Circuit Court.
Ironworkers were preparing to attach a rebar template to the side of a form wall on May 25 at the lab site.
That’s when Daniels fell approximately 23 feet, striking a diagonal brace before landing on the concrete slab below, according to the DOE accident report.
Co-workers responded to Daniels within seconds of the fall, according to the report. But because the nearest first aid kit was located approximately 150 yards away from the accident location in a construction trailer, workers used a bandana to wipe away blood from Daniels’ mouth.
If the first aid kit had been closer to the scene, it is more likely workers would have used sealed and sanitized articles from the kit, including gloves that could have reduced their exposure to blood-borne pathogens, according to the accident report.
When paramedics arrived on scene, due to the severity of the injuries, they opted for an airlift via helicopter to the hospital to save time. But that decision ultimately cost Daniels roughly 25 minutes more than if he had been transported to the hospital by ambulance, according to the accident investigation report. Later, Daniels was in a medically induced coma for nearly a month, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The report also identified several safety steps that weren’t followed at the construction site, namely:
- Daniels did not use the fall protection PPE he was wearing in accordance with requirements.
- The definition of work activities were not clear or specific, and lacked the necessary identification of hazards and controls.
- The multiple subcontracts and subcontractor relationships did not include a methodology to establish a clear flow down of safety requirements.
- Oversight at multiple levels failed to recognize these errors.
- Omissions and incomplete safety documents resulted in unapproved versions of documents being used for daily work activities.
Collectively, these shortcomings suggest a systemic weakness and lack of attention to detail in managing project documentation among onsite project teams, according to the accident report.
These root causes, if corrected, would prevent recurrence of the same or similar accidents in the future, according to the DOE.
Whittaker Construction declined to comment on the accident when contacted by Construction Dive. Attempts to reach the Fermi Research Alliance, Harris Rebar Placing and Nucor Harris Rebar Midwest were unsuccessful.
Kevin Bomstad, senior project manager for Whittaker, told the Tribune, “we are in the process of working toward a restart,” according to a Sept. 14 article. “It was a severe accident, and I think we’re all trying to cross our t’s and dot our i’s and comply. We’re obviously anxious to return to work. But we understand there are certain measures that need to be taken on all parts.”
The Proton Improvement Plan II, a 10-year, $978 million project funded by the Department of Energy, which owns the Fermi National Accelerator Lab, is an essential upgrade to Fermilab’s accelerator complex. The project is ultimately expected to enhance groundbreaking experiments in particle physics by creating a more powerful accelerator.