Metro halted Crenshaw rail line construction after safety violations

Metro halted Crenshaw Line construction for four days after officials saw a series of safety violations

All construction on the $2.1-billion Crenshaw Line was halted for four days recently after transportation officials witnessed a series of safety violations that escalated in severity, officials told The Times. 

The shutdown began Thursday and work resumed Monday. It was the first construction suspension of its kind in Metro history and comes as the light-rail line's contractor, Walsh/Shea Corridor Constructors, is ramping up heavy construction

"We wanted to send a message to the contractor before someone got seriously hurt," said Greg Kildare, a Metro executive who oversees safety management. The rate of safety violations increased as the contractor began "managing a lot more man-hours" on the construction site, Kildare said. 

The 8.5-mile route, slated to open in 2019, will connect the Expo Line to the Green Line on the west side of Los Angeles County. 

"'Safety first' is our credo," Metro spokesman Marc Littman said. "Accidents don’t just happen. There’s a series of things that lead up to them."

Representatives for Walsh/Shea did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

In late March, a Metro construction safety director noticed a worker walking across a beam without a tether. Employees stopped work for an hour the next day to talk about safety procedures, Kildare said. 

Six days later, another Metro employee noticed "improper rigging" on a crane, which prompted another safety meeting. 

At other times in March, Metro employees noticed gasoline in an area where flammable liquids aren't allowed, as well as improper guardrails around an excavated area. 

Then, in early April, a construction worker using a jackhammer on concrete near the Expo/Crenshaw station struck a utility line and caused an electrical short.

"This doesn't mean that Walsh/Shea's performance has been bad, by any means," Kildare said. "We do not have a disastrous safety program. But we'd seen a series of events, followed by a final and significant incident that could have very seriously injured an employee."

Kildare said the contractor's injury rate is below the industry average: Since construction began a year ago, Walsh/Shea has reported six injuries to federal regulators. 

Metro asked Walsh/Shea to revise its safety procedures before construction could begin again, Kildare said. The contractors assured officials they would redouble efforts to "identify hazards" before drilling or digging, bring in more safety inspectors and would tighten the penalties for violating safety rules, Metro said.

The employee who struck the utility line and his supervisor both were fired, Kildare said. 

As construction in Los Angeles County has boomed, employers — including Walsh/Shea — have struggled to retain safety inspectors, Kildare said. Three of the contractor's five inspectors left their jobs in "a very short period of time," he said, so the company was forced to fly in another employee from Texas.  

Any safety violation that could lead to serious injury or death will lead to someone being fired, Kildare said. 

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