OSHA Joins Investigation of

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At the request of state health and safety officials, the federal has joined an investigation into persistent allegations of unsafe working conditions and shoddy workmanship on the project.

John Howard, chief of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, told the Cal/OSHA advisory committee in San Francisco on Thursday that the federal investigation will consist of two major components.

The probe will start with federal safety officials joining state regulators on a visit to the project to study current conditions. Investigators then will seek to confirm allegations of unsafe practices in the past.

Introductory meetings between the state and federal agencies began Thursday at a Cal/OSHA office in Van Nuys. Howard said the evaluation may take several months.

Howard said he turned to federal officials for help on the project because his agency has not been able to get a handle on the allegations made by present and former safety and quality-control inspectors on the project.

"Assertions that safety on the project is being compromised, which were first made and investigated in mid-1991, have continued to be made," Howard told the Cal/OSHA advisory committee. "I am concerned about these continuing assertions, and I believe that in order to ascertain their validity, an independent evaluation is warranted."

At least four Red Line safety inspectors have filed suit in recent months against the Rail Construction Corp. and its consultants, alleging that they were fired for fighting unsafe practices on the multibillion-dollar subway project. Some also assert they have been blackballed in the industry by Cal/OSHA officials because of their activities.

The Rail Construction Corp. is the wholly owned construction subsidiary of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, the public agency that is using local sales-tax receipts and state and federal grants to build the Red Line subway and hundreds of miles of other rail transit lines throughout the county.

The Red Line construction project is divided into three segments. The first, from Union Station to MacArthur Park, is scheduled to open in 1993. The second, west to Mid-City and north to Hollywood, is in the first stages of construction. Preliminary engineering is just starting on the third segment, to the San Fernando Valley.

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