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In June 2014, while Atkinson Construction LP’s employees were erecting “falsework” near the I-405/I-605 interchange in Seal Beach for a new freeway bridge, an accident occurred, which seriously injured one of it’s employees.

Specifically, a forklift attempting to position a long steel beam atop two vertical falsework structures, known as “bents,” accidentally hit another beam, causing that beam and another to overturn and fall off the bents. Each of the steel beams weighed approximately 60,000 pounds.

As the beams collapsed Ramon Torres, an employee standing on one of the bents fell nearly 30 feet to the ground. Torres suffered serious physical injuries from the fall.

After an investigation, the Division cited Atkinson for violating a construction safety order – section 1709, subdivision (b)(1) – that requires beams to be “braced laterally and progressively” to prevent overturning.

Atkinson appealed the citation, but the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board denied the appeal. It then filed a petition for a writ of administrative mandate in the superior court which also was denied.

Atkinson appealed the denial of its writ petition, arguing that (1) the cited safety order does not apply because another, more specific, safety order governs falsework operations; and that (2) it complied with the more specific safety order. The Court of Appeal was not persuaded by these arguments, and affirmed the citation in the unpublished case of Atkinson Construction LP v. DIR Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Atkinson requested the court of appeal to review the regulatory history of section 1709, subdivision (b)(1). However the court found no basis for doing so. The language clearly states that “[t]russes and beams shall be braced laterally and progressively during construction to prevent buckling or overturning.” (§ 1709, subd. (b)(1).) There is no ambiguity in the text to justify an inquiry into its regulatory history.

Despite the safety order’s plain language, Atkinson argues that section 1709 does not apply to falsework operations. It contends that falsework is a “separate and distinct” type of construction, with its own specific safety order (section 1717), and therefore the absence of any reference to falsework in section 1709 necessarily implies that it applies only to nonfalsework construction.

Prior Board decisions establish that more than one safety order may apply to a particular set of facts, even when the construction involves falsework. Here, section 1709 is part of the specific industry safety orders promulgated for the construction industry. Such construction safety orders establish minimum safety standards that apply to any employment “in connection with the construction, alteration, painting, repairing, construction maintenance, renovation, removal, or wrecking of any fixed structure or its parts.”

Thus, Atkinson’s falsework operations were covered by the construction safety orders, including section 1709.