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Safety Audit of Subway Work Finds Violations : Transportation: Alleged hazards include more than 80 types and range from exposed wires to cigarette use near combustible gases. Fines could reach $175,000 or more.

August 19, 1994|HENRY CHU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Inspectors conducting a comprehensive safety audit of Metro Rail tunneling have concluded that contractors violated more than 80 safety regulations, including the improper storage of flammable chemicals, the presence of electrical hazards and even the apparent use of cigarettes in a passage prone to combustible gases.

After more than a week's investigation, inspectors reported 86 types of alleged workplace hazards in the Red Line tunnels and stations under construction between Downtown and Hollywood, Cal/OSHA district manager Lee Klein said Thursday. The alleged violations could result in penalties of $175,000 or more.

Klein said investigators found inadequate shoring around trenches, a lack of guardrails around shafts and exposed electrical cords and live wires. Workers also stored incompatible gas cylinders together that could cause an explosion like the one that seriously injured three welders last month, she said.

In what officials described as the most egregious safety breach, numerous cigarette butts were discovered in a tunnel continuously monitored for methane and hydrogen sulfide--both highly volatile gases.

"You have a potential (explosion) there," Klein said.

Many of the alleged violations were corrected on the spot, she said. Although inspectors slapped stop-work orders on five cranes that may have faulty controls or wiring, no general shutdown of operations was required.

The investigation reflects growing concern over working conditions on the nation's costliest public works effort, which has been plagued by accusations of poor safety and construction in recent months. Since March, the project has suffered two accidents and a tunnel misalignment that has set back the timetable for the 4.5-mile subway extension.

The two accidents, involving a runaway train and the explosion last month, prompted state occupational safety officials to mount the current audit and to invite federal inspectors to join them. Also, Cal/OSHA has cited contractor Shea-Kiewit-Kenny in connection with the derailed train, ordering the firm to pay $301,675 in one of Cal/OSHA's largest assessments of the last two years.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials on Thursday reiterated the agency's commitment to safety on the project, saying that the rate of serious injury has been lower than the national average for such work.

The MTA will distribute copies of the alleged violations to all of the project's major contractors, with instructions that they report on any outstanding problems, said Edward McSpedon, the MTA's executive officer for construction.

McSpedon noted that the current investigation is not the first such wide-ranging audit by Cal/OSHA. A similar investigation two years ago identified some violations but concluded that "the job overall was being well-handled," McSpedon said.

The majority of the new round of alleged violations are linked to Shea-Kiewit-Kenny and Tutor-Saliba-Perini, another major Red Line contractor, Klein said.

Representatives of the two companies did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday.

Of the 86 violations identified, 44 were classified as "serious," 33 as "general" and nine as "regulatory."

However, Klein said none of the violations is likely to be classified "willful," which implies knowledge and deliberate overlooking of a hazard and carries the greatest financial penalty.

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