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Contractor Cited in Tunnel Death

Subway: State fines consortium $70,500 for safety violations in February accident that killed a worker.

May 07, 1997|JEFFREY L. RABIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After probing the first death of a construction worker on the Metro Rail subway project, state officials Tuesday cited contractor Tutor-Saliba-Perini for 14 mostly serious violations of state worker safety laws and imposed fines of $70,500.

The action by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) came nearly three months after Jamie Pasillas, 49, was killed when a refuse bin containing more than two tons of material being hauled out of a Hollywood subway tunnel broke free of a chain and crushed him to death.

Mark Carleson, the deputy chief of Cal/OSHA, said a "methodical and meticulous investigation" of the Feb. 15 accident found "a series of very grave violations . . . which created a situation where there was a very good potential for someone to get hurt . . . or tragically killed."

Although the issuance of the citations ends the agency's civil investigation into the circumstances of Pasillas' death, Carleson said a separate criminal probe is continuing.

Cal/OSHA concluded that despite specific safety standards, Tutor-Saliba-Perini had used a substandard quarter-inch common carbon steel chain of "unidentifiable manufacture and unknown grade" to lift a load weighing more than 4,600 pounds.

Agency investigators found that the chain sling was not rated for such a heavy load and that it had not been inspected for damage or defects as required.

Investigators also found severe gouges on the outer edge of the failed chain link and other links that were deformed, indicating that the chain had been subjected to excessive loads, according to the citations.

Cal/OSHA also found that the contractor had failed to keep employees clear of loads about to be lifted from the tunnel. Moreover, according to the citations, the foreman and employees involved in the hoisting operation had not received adequate training, and this too contributed to the accident.

Carleson said he expects that Tutor-Saliba-Perini will appeal the citations and fines.

Ronald Tutor, the president and chief executive officer of Tutor-Saliba Corp., was not immediately available for comment.

In all, eight of the citations with fines totaling $48,750 were issued for specific violations that contributed to the early morning accident beneath Hollywood Boulevard.

Pasillas' death was the first fatality in the history of the subway project, though there have been a number of severe injuries to construction workers in the tunnels.

Carleson said the fines imposed by Cal/OSHA were not the highest for the Metro Rail project, in part because the agency's attorneys believed that it would be difficult to prove even more serious "willful" violations in court.

Half of the citations were for violations that did not contribute directly to the accident, including failure to protect workers from steel reinforcing bars, failure to provide wheel guards on equipment to prevent foot injuries and failure to correct problems with an underground diesel fueling station.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's acting chief executive, Linda Bohlinger, said in a statement that the county transit agency cannot comment on specific information relating to Pasillas' death because his family has filed a damage claim against the agency. That is the first step before filing a wrongful-death lawsuit.

However, MTA safety director Dan Jackson said all of the conditions cited by Cal/OSHA have been corrected by Tutor-Saliba-Perini.

In the wake of the accident, MTA officials met with all of the agency's contractors to discuss safety issues, Jackson said, and issues involving the use of hoists and chains were specifically reviewed.

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