OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
Following a six-month inspection, the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited four contractors for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in connection with the deaths of two workers in a sewage outfall tunnel beneath Boston Harbor and has proposed a total of $410,900 in fines against those companies.
Cited were Norwesco Marine, Inc. an underwater diving contractor based in Spokane, Washington, which was under contract to remove diffuser bulkheads from the far end of the tunnel [$203,500 in proposed penalties for two Willful and eleven Serious violations]; Black Dog Divers, Inc., a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, diving contractor which was providing subcontract labor to Norwesco [$25,400 in proposed penalties for thirteen Serious violations]; Kiewit-Atkinson-Kenny, JV of Winthrop, Mass., the general contractor for the outfall tunnel project [$91,000 in proposed penalties for one Willful and three Serious violations]; and ICF Kaiser Engineers of Massachusetts, of Winthrop, Mass., the project's construction manager [$91,000 in proposed penalties for one Willful and three Serious violations].
On July 21, 1999, employees of Norwesco and Black Dog were removing bulkheads located 9.5 miles into the tunnel when a malfunction occurred in their respirator system. A Norwesco employee and a Black Dog employee who were in a transport vehicle monitoring three employees working farther out in the tunnel were overcome by insufficient oxygen and subsequently died. The three other workers changed over to their alternative air supply and were able to exit the tunnel and return to the surface with the stricken workers.
According to Ruth McCully, OSHA's New England Regional Administrator, the inspection found that the tunnel lacked sufficient ventilation to provide life-sustaining amounts of oxygen to the workers.
McCully explained that the bulkhead removal was part of the completion of the tunnel's construction and, as such, is covered under the OSHA standard which requires that fresh air be provided to workers engaged in underground construction.
"A mechanical ventilation system that supplied fresh air to workers had been in place during earlier phases of construction, but was taken out prior to the bulkhead removal and not replaced," she said.
"Rather than use the required ventilation system, the contractors decided to utilize a respirator system," said Brenda Gordon, OSHA area director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts, whose office conducted the inspection and issued the citations. "This respirator system was woefully inadequate in numerous ways and failed. As a result of these deficiencies, two men died and three others were put at risk."
Kiewit and Kaiser shared the responsibility for removing the ventilation system and have been cited for a Willful violation for the lack of ventilation. Norwesco and Black Dog were issued Serious citations for this violation.
Norwesco, which designed and built the respirator system, was cited for a Willful violation of the respiratory protection standard for the multiple inadequacies and deficiencies in that system. Those deficiencies included inappropriate or inadequate hoses, hose fittings, gas mixers and breathing regulators as well as inoperable or disabled alarms and lack of an in-line monitoring system. A second Willful citation was issued to Norwesco for its failure to remove workers from the oxygen-deficient tunnel after repeated instances of breathing resistance and leakage occurred in the respirators. Black Dog was cited for a Serious violation of this standard.
All four contractors were also cited for Serious violations for failing to ensure that adequate illumination was provided for the work area and for failing to provide direct communication between the excursion workers and the surface. The workers in the tunnel had no direct contact with the surface until they returned to the transport vehicle.
In addition, Norwesco and Black Dog were cited for the following Serious violations: failure to develop a written respirator protection program and designate an administrator for same; failure to obtain all needed medical information to ensure workers' fitness to wear a respirator; employees not fit-tested for respirators; respirators worn by workers with more than one day's growth of facial hair thus not ensuring a proper face seal; failure to inspect routinely used respirators before use and during cleaning and failure to check emergency respirators before and after each use; emergency oxygen cylinders not maintained in a fully charged state; failure to ensure that the liquid oxygen used in the breathing system was medical or breathing grade rather than industrial grade, and failure to ensure that cylinders of liquid oxygen and nitrogen were properly labeled; failure to ensure that employees were adequately trained on usage and maintenance, limitations, emergency provisions, care and inspection and other elements of the respirator standard.
OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.
A serious violation is defined as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.
Each company has 15 working days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to either elect to comply with them, to request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
OSHA is empowered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to issue standards and rules requiring employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces and jobsites, and to assure through workplace inspections that those standards are followed.
The information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: (617) 565-2072. TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) Message Referral Phone: 800-347-8029.
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