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Inspector Says Cal/OSHA, MTA Blocked Safety Efforts

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A veteran safety engineer contended in a legal claim filed this week that the state’s top workplace protection agency and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority conspired to prevent him from exposing unsafe conditions in Metro Rail subway tunnels.

Henry McIntire, 65, accused his bosses at the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health of helping the MTA cover up dangerous working conditions in tunnels over the last six years, harassing him over the last three years for trying to do something about it, and demoting him in April 1995.

McIntire, a Quartz Hill resident who has worked for Cal/OSHA in Van Nuys since 1974, itemized in the complaint half a dozen instances in which he says his attempts to investigate or shut down unsafe Red Line tunneling work were stymied by Byron Ishkanian, a former superior. In one example, he said that in retribution for McIntire’s efforts to enforce the state safety code, his son was fired by an MTA contractor.

Cal/OSHA’s assistant director, Mark Carleson, said Tuesday that he had not seen the complaint and would not comment on specific allegations. However, he said that McIntire was relieved of his mining enforcement duties and moved to a desk job because a heart condition prevented him from doing strenuous work, not to shut him up.

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Carleson, who is named in the complaint as a co-conspirator, said a Civil Service personnel board has already investigated McIntire’s complaints and ruled that the state’s actions in putting him in a new post with a pay cut were appropriate.

“I like Henry. I’ve never heard anything but that he’s a very capable safety engineer,” Carleson said. “But, candidly, his health is not good.”

An MTA spokesman said the agency had not seen the complaint and declined to comment. Ishkanian did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In the complaint, McIntire asserts that Cal/OSHA knew about his heart condition for 10 years and only used his need for occasional medication as a pretext to demote him. The complaint contends that the safety agency exaggerated McIntire’s heart ailment and inflated the physical requirements of his enforcement job in an effort to prevent him from inspecting Metro Rail tunnels.

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The complaint, called a governmental tort claim, is the legally required precursor to a lawsuit against a public agency. The claim gives a governmental body an opportunity to settle with a plaintiff to avoid the cost of a court battle. If it is rejected, plaintiffs can take their case to trial.

McIntire contends in the complaint that Ishkanian repeatedly “lost, misplaced, covered up or ignored” his reports on safety violations in Metro Rail tunnels. He further contends that Ishkanian “authorized” the MTA to allow such violations as a normal course of business, in contravention of state and federal rules.

In one of the most serious charges, McIntire says that he ordered a Metro Rail tunnel near Union Station closed after he discovered safety violations and hazardous conditions in the wake of a fire in July 1990. The complaint asserts that Ishkanian ordered the tunnel reopened, then “confiscated” McIntire’s field notes and photos and removed him from the investigation. The complaint charges that no further inquiries were conducted by Cal/OSHA.


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