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MTA to Meet With Subway Contractors to Address Job Safety

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As investigators probed the cause of the first death of a construction worker on the Metro Rail subway project, MTA officials vowed Tuesday to meet with all major contractors within 30 days to underscore the agency’s concern about safety.

The meetings with vice presidents of the firms constructing the subway are intended to emphasize that “the MTA is vitally interested in the safety of the people who build the system,” said Charles Stark, the agency’s acting chief of rail construction.

The first of the meetings will take place Thursday with Traylor Bros./Frontier-Kemper, which is constructing the Red Line subway tunnel from Studio City through the Santa Monica Mountains to Hollywood.

Stark said the county transit agency regrets the accident that killed a construction worker Saturday in a tunnel beneath Hollywood Boulevard, the first death in the project’s history. “We consider it one death too many,” he said.

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“An incident of this nature is a wake-up call to us all,” Dan Jackson, director of construction safety for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said at a news conference.

In the wake of the fatal accident, Jackson said MTA officials have been conducting a wall-to-wall inspection of the tunnel where the incident occurred. Only “minor shortcomings"--ranging from a burned-out light fixture between the twin tunnels to a lack of proper walkways and some protruding steel bars--were found Sunday during the first day of the inspection.

Jackson said contractors, who actually build the tunnel, are “working with us to eliminate the hazards.”

Meanwhile, state investigators were probing the accident, in which a half-ton refuse bin called a “muck bucket” that was being lifted from the tunnel broke free of one of two chains and struck and killed construction worker Jaime Pasillas, 52, of Los Angeles.

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“We are moving very deliberately and methodically in the investigation,” said Mark Carleson, deputy chief of California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

But Carleson stressed that the state agency’s civil and criminal investigators would meticulously probe the accident. Cal/OSHA is “not going to rush anything” in reaching its conclusions about what caused the accident and whether worker safety laws were violated.

In the course of the probe, Carleson said, investigators will examine “anything related to what happened,” including what was in the refuse bin, the weight of the load and the condition of the chain to which it was attached.

The agency has six months to issue citations and fines and a year to complete its criminal investigation, he said.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s environmental crimes and worker safety division is also involved, but is not taking the leading role.

The fatality last weekend is the latest in a series of construction accidents on the subway project. MTA officials, however, denied that the agency is putting its construction schedule ahead of worker safety. “You can build on time, you can build within budget and still have a safe system,” Stark said.

MTA officials also took issue with a report Tuesday in The Times that the rate of injuries on the Hollywood Boulevard tunnel project is higher than the national average for heavy construction.

Jackson said the number of serious injuries that resulted in lost work time on that segment of the rail project is “a mere fraction” of the national average. But he acknowledged that the number of recordable injuries--which includes serious and less serious cases--is “a little higher” than the national average.

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