Union Blames Nassco Accident on Hoist : Claims Firm Failed to Inspect Equipment in Incident That Injured 6

Times Staff Writer

Union officials at National Steel & Shipbuilding Co. charged Thursday that the failure of an uninspected hoist caused the accident in which a 22-ton propeller shaft being installed on a Navy destroyer plunged about 25 feet into a group of workers, injuring six. Three of the injured remained hospitalized Thursday.

Robert Godinez, president of Iron Worker’s Local 627 said a steel pin sheared in one of two 6-ton hoists used to lift the propeller shaft Wednesday night, causing a break in the chain being used to lift the shaft.

The accident happened about 6 p.m., as workers were aligning the shaft, said Fred Hallett, spokesman and vice president of finance for Nassco. The shaft, which was being installed on the destroyer Elliot, fell about 25 feet to the deck of the dry-dock, collapsing scaffolding below and spilling a group of workers.


John Hermanson, head of the local federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration office, said an initial review of the accident by OSHA investigators showed that the 36-foot-long shaft was being transported by two 10-ton and two 6-ton hoists.

3 Investigators at Site

Hermanson said that the combined capacity of the four hoists was enough to safely carry the shaft. He said OSHA investigators confirmed that a steel pin had broken on the hoist but said he “didn’t know the cause.”

“We also don’t know if that’s the only problem. . . . We have not determined the cause of the accident and have three investigators looking into it. . . . It’ll probably be about two weeks before we can release any official findings,” said Hermanson.

Godinez charged that the 6-ton pneumatic hoist that failed when the pin sheared has never been inspected, even though OSHA regulations call for annual safety inspections of the hoisting equipment.

“The air hoist has not been serviced on a yearly basis as required by OSHA. . . . There is no record of it ever being maintained. The hoist has no tags showing that it has ever been serviced,” said Godinez.

According to Hermanson, when a piece of equipment is inspected, a sticker or tag is placed on the equipment showing that an inspection has been completed.

Hallett declined to comment on Godinez’s charges except to say that Nassco officials are “looking at OSHA requirements into the servicing of that particular equipment.” But he added that shipyard authorities have not discovered any safety violations relating to the accident that “are readily apparent.”

Hermanson said that Nassco is responsible for inspecting the hoist but added, “I’m not sure if they did that.”

Godinez said the accident caused some of the 16 40-pound bolts that secure the shaft to the ship to fall among workers.

One Worker on Critical List

On Thursday, Hallett said that John Wilkins, 34, was the most seriously injured of the three workers that remained hospitalized. Wilkins is at the UCSD Medical Center in critical but stable condition with head and arm injuries. Leroy Smith is also at UCSD with chest injuries and is listed in fair condition. Ronald Vaughn is at Mercy Hospital in good condition with a broken leg.

Nassco has been beset with safety problems in the last two years. In July, six workers were killed and six injured when a steel personnel basket that was being transported by a crane fell 30 feet to the deck of a Navy ship that was being overhauled.

In 1986, a worker was killed when a beam fell about 90 feet, striking him in the head. Two days later, a worker was electrocuted.

An OSHA investigation of the July accident led to 19 citations against the company and $62,800 in fines. Nassco is appealing 18 of the citations. That investigation led to a “wall-to-wall” safety inspection of the shipyard by OSHA. In March, OHSA officials cited the company for 470 more alleged safety violations and fined the company another $72,300.

Union workers at Nassco have been working without a contract since Oct. 1, and negotiations between the seven unions at the shipyard and management have remained at an impasse.

Shortly after the old contracts expired, management unilaterally slashed wages for the 2,500 union workers. Some wage cuts exceeded 50%. Earlier this year, salaried workers at Nassco were given pay raises by the company.