Double fatality in tunnel results in $410,900 fine

After a six-month inspection, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Admini-stration has cited four contractors in connection with the deaths of two workers in a sewage outfall tunnel beneath Boston Harbor and has proposed a total of $410,900 in fines against those companies.

OSHA cited Norwesco Marine, an underwater diving contractor based in Spokane, WA, which was under contract to remove diffuser bulkheads from the far end of the tunnel. OSHA proposed $203,500 in proposed penalties for two willful and 11 serious violations.

Black Dog Divers, a Portsmouth, NH, diving contractor that was providing subcontract labor to Norwesco, faces $25,400 in proposed penalties for 13 serious violations.

Kiewit-Atkinson-Kenny, JV of Winthrop, MA, the general contractor for the outfall tunnel project, faces $91,000 in proposed penalties for one willful and three serious violations.

The fourth employer, ICF Kaiser Engineers of Massachusetts, of Winthrop, MA, was the project’s construction manager. That company faces $91,000 in proposed penalties for one willful and three serious violations.

On July 21, 1999, employees of Norwesco and Black Dog were removing bulkheads located 9.5 miles into the tunnel when a malfunction occurred in their respirator system. A Norwesco employee and a Black Dog employee who were in a transport vehicle monitoring three employees working farther out in the tunnel collapsed from insufficient oxygen.

The three other workers changed over to their alternative air supply and were able to exit the tunnel and return to the surface with the stricken workers, but the injured workers subsequently died.

Ruth McCully, OSHA’s New England regional administrator, says the inspection found that the tunnel lacked sufficient ventilation to provide life-sustaining amounts of oxygen to the workers. McCully explains that the bulkhead removal was part of the completion of the tunnel’s construction and, as such, is covered under the OSHA standard which requires that fresh air be provided to workers engaged in underground construction.

A mechanical ventilation system that supplied fresh air to workers had been in place during earlier phases of construction, but was taken out prior to the bulkhead removal and not replaced, McCully says.

Rather than use the required ventilation system, the contractors decided to utilize a respirator system, says Brenda Gordon, OSHA area director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts, whose office conducted the inspection and issued the citations. "This respirator system was woefully inadequate in numerous ways and failed. As a result of these deficiencies, two men died and three others were put at risk."

Shared responsibility for ventilation

Kiewit and Kaiser shared the responsibility for removing the ventilation system and have been cited for a willful violation for the lack of ventilation. Norwesco and Black Dog were issued serious citations for this violation.

Norwesco, which designed and built the respirator system, was cited for a willful violation of the respiratory protection standard for the multiple inadequacies and deficiencies in that system. Those deficiencies included inappropriate or inadequate hoses, hose fittings, gas mixers, and breathing regulators, as well as inoperable or disabled alarms and lack of an in-line monitoring system.

A second willful citation was issued to Nor-wesco for its failure to remove workers from the oxygen-deficient tunnel after repeated instances of breathing resistance and leakage occurred in the respirators. Black Dog was cited for a serious violation of this standard.

All four contractors were also cited for serious violations for failing to ensure that adequate illumination was provided for the work area and for failing to provide direct communication between the excursion workers and the surface.

The workers in the tunnel had no direct contact with the surface until they returned to the transport vehicle.