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Report Lists Violations by Nassco in 6 Deaths

Times Staff Writer

A briefing by federal safety officials for union and National Steel & Shipbuilding Co. officials on a July crane accident at the shipyard that killed six workers and injured six others listed numerous safety violations by the company relating to the crane and personnel basket involved in the tragedy.

The briefing, however, did not reveal a cause for the accident, which company officials have blamed on operator error. The preliminary report, given by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to union officials Dec. 11 and at another time to Nassco officers, also did not find any major structural or mechanical problems with the electric-powered crane, but investigators were critical of several modifications done to the machine.

Final Report Due Today

A final report on the accident is scheduled to be released today by OSHA’s local office. The agency’s officials have refused to comment on the report or on the accident’s cause, but it is expected that today’s report will include citations against Nassco accompanied by fines.

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According to union sources familiar with last month’s briefing, the OSHA investigator who gave the report said the cause of the accident has not been determined. Instead, the investigator listed 23 safety violations, many of them described as minor, but others dealing with unapproved modifications performed on the crane and unsafe equipment used to transport the workers when they plunged 30 feet to their deaths July 10.

Fred Hallett, Nassco vice president and spokesman, acknowledged that company and union officials were given an oral briefing on OSHA’s preliminary findings, but he declined to comment until the final report is released.

“We were told that some of their findings may change before the final report is released, so we’ll wait until we’re served,” Hallett said.

One of the union sources, who requested anonymity, said the unions were told that the final report may not include all of the minor safety infractions.

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“But we expect the violations relating to the basket to be included because we think they are significant,” he said.

The fatal accident occurred shortly after midnight when a steel personnel basket that measured 6 feet by 4 feet and held 12 men fell to the ground as it was being lowered by a crane operated by Hugh Humphrey. The basket struck a corner on the Navy supply ship Sacramento, which was undergoing an overhaul, and dumped the workers about 30 feet onto one of the ship’s decks. Humphrey was placed on administrative leave with pay pending the results of the investigation.

Violations Listed

According to several union officials familiar with the OSHA briefing, the federal agency’s investigators listed the following safety violations surrounding the personnel basket involved in the accident:

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- The basket was overloaded and should have carried 6, rather than 12 workers. Weight was not a factor, but rather investigators said there were too many men crammed into a tight space.

- The access gate on the basket opened outward, rather than inward.

- The basket lacked safety belts, which could have prevented the men from spilling out.

- There was no company requirement that workers be secured with safety belts while being transported in crane-lifted baskets.

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OSHA investigators also said the company should have provided a gangway between the Sacramento and a berthing barge being used to work on the Navy ship, a union official said. On the night of the accident, the workers were transported by basket from the berthing barge to the Sacramento and to the pier.

According to the official, OSHA investigators were also critical of modifications made to the crane’s air and electrical systems. The modifications were not necessarily illegal, but Nassco failed to have the changes approved by the companies that manufactured the crane and its components, he said.

Another area of concern to OSHA investigators was the training given by the company to Humphrey for operating an electric crane. This was confirmed by Humphrey’s attorney, Peter Hughes, who said he was not briefed by OSHA but was present when investigators interviewed Humphrey after the accident.

Humphrey had extensive experience in conventional hydraulic cranes that operate on the ground and can be moved from one location to another. The crane operated by Humphrey during the accident is electrically powered and runs on fixed tracks. Hallett said Humphrey had less than one year’s experience on the electric crane before the accident.

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Training Was Key Concern

“I gathered from the meeting that training was a paramount concern with the investigators. There wasn’t any formal training received by Mr. Humphrey as far as this particular crane was concerned,” Hughes said. “My recollection of the interview was that there was no structured training.”

A Nassco official who did not want to be identified acknowledged that the company’s training program for operation of the electric crane was a concern to OSHA investigators. But the company official said investigators were concerned about “the documentation of our training procedures, not the training itself.”


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