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Bridge construction mishap kills worker, injures another in Haverhill

One worker died and a second was seriously injured after they fell from an aerial platform onto a barge in the Merrimack River in Haverhill Wednesday while working on a $110 million bridge construction project.

The men fell 40 to 50 feet from a telescopic boom shortly before 10 a.m. while working on the bridge on Interstate 495. A 44-year-old man from Manchester, N.H., was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Essex district attorney’s office. His name was not immediately released.

The second worker, a 46-year-old man, was taken to Lahey Hospital in Burlington, where he was undergoing surgery late Wednesday afternoon, the district attorney’s office said. His condition was not immediately known.

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The two worked for JR Vinagro Corp. of Johnston, R.I., a subcontractor on the job, according to the state Department of Transportation. The company was hired by the general contractor, SPS New England of Salisbury, said Tim McLaughlin, a company spokesman.

“Our sympathies go out to the families of the two workers who were injured . . . The site is under investigation and we’re cooperating,” McLaughlin said.

The authorities have ruled out foul play, according to the district attorney’s office.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, officials had yet to determine whether mechanical problems or operator error were to blame, the district attorney’s office said.

Officials from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration responded to the scene and are investigating, according to a spokesman for the agency.

Its inspectors will work “to determine which workplace safety standards would apply in this situation and whether or not the employer(s) complied with those standards.”

OSHA has up to six months to complete an inspection and does not discuss specifics of ongoing probes, the spokesman said.

State and Haverhill police were also investigating, the district attorney’s office said.

“The Massachusetts Department of Transportation will be cooperating fully with OSHA and other authorities in determining what occurred to lead to this tragedy,” MassDOT said.

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Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini said investigators were at the scene all day Wednesday. “There are a lot of questions that have to be asked about an accident like this,” he said. “I’m anxious to hear the investigation as to how this happened.”

He extended his sympathies to the workers’ families.

“There’s never a good time for something like this, but the day before Thanksgiving, that has to be the worst time,” he said.

The project began in August 2018 and will replace and widen north and southbound lanes of the bridge, according to a project description.

Fiorentini said the bridge replacement is an essential transportation project for the Merrimack Valley. The bridge’s span had been rotting, and constituents had complained of a “very uneven ride,” he said. “People were getting their tires blown out,” he said.

He called the project “a great thing for our area” and said it would be provide a smoother commute into Boston.

Fiorentini said the accident was the second pre-holiday fatality in Haverhill in the last year. Shortly before Christmas 2018 , a construction worker died in Haverhill after he reportedly fell down an elevator shaft at a construction site, he said.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health, an advocacy group, lamented the worker’s death in a statement.

The group said it’s “saddened to learn of a worker fatality and serious injuries to another worker at a bridge construction project in Haverhill. The tragic event is a reminder that working at heights remains a very dangerous job and that it’s essential that employers take the time to carefully implement OSHA-required safety measures.”

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Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Alyssa Lukpat can be reached at alyssa.lukpat@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlyssaLukpat.