Worker's Flash Fire Burning Leads to $235,865 Fine

At the work site, welding equipment ignited flammable gases and caused a flash fire resulting in second and third degree burns to the face and head of the welder working inside the steel pipeline.

Cal/OSHA issued ten citations totaling $235,865 to construction contractor TL Pavlich for deliberate and willful workplace safety violations which led to a flash fire severely burning a welder on a public works project in Montebello last December. In addition to being reviewed for a potential criminal referral to the Los Angeles District Attorney, the case is being referred to the Contractors State Licensing Board for licensing review and to the California Labor Commissioner for possible public works debarment.

Cal/OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Division of the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), deemed the safety violations so serious that they presented an imminent hazard to workers and issued an order prohibiting use (OPU). This order stopped all work at the site until the hazard was eliminated. Cal/OSHA issued three willful citations for deficient confined space procedures. In addition, it was learned that Pavlich violated the OPU by sending workers into sections of a steel water pipe on at least eleven occasions after being instructed to take corrective measures to eliminate the hazard and notify Cal/OSHA prior to any additional work.

“We cannot and will not tolerate bad actors who intentionally sacrifice the safety of their workers,” said DIR Acting Director Christine Baker. “Employees should never be placed in a work environment that is a known hazard.”

On December 14, 2010, the Highland-based general contractor was installing a 30 inch diameter water pipe 12 feet underground in Montebello, Calif. The site was known to be contaminated by abandoned oil and gas wells in the area. Welding equipment ignited flammable gases and caused a flash fire resulting in second and third degree burns to the face and head of the welder working inside the steel pipeline. Cal/OSHA’s investigation determined the flash fire was likely caused by the accumulation methane gas present in the nearby soil.

“Working in confined spaces presents some of the most dangerous conditions for welders and other workers. Our goal is to prevent these needless tragedies and ensure employers live up to their responsibility of protecting their workers,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “For those employers who think they can skirt safety and health regulations, Cal/OSHA will do everything within its authority to hold them accountable, especially under circumstances like these.”

Aside from failing to monitor air contaminants inside the pipe prior to entry, Cal/OSHA determined that the welder was provided a personal gas alert monitor which was not properly calibrated to detect the presence of gas. A properly calibrated monitor would have allowed the welder to know the actual levels of gas and protective measures could have been taken.

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