Contractor in SF Muni tunnel death had record of safety violations

The company that hired the worker killed by a steel beam during construction on the Twin Peaks Tunnel did not tell transit officials it had a history of workplace safety violations when it applied for the project, public records revealed Tuesday.

Records show Shimmick Construction has been linked to nearly 50 workplace safety violations over the last decade, including citations for serious violations related to the death of a forklift worker in 2016.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration also fined a partnership between Shimmick Construction and another company more than $190,000 for alleged willful and serious violations in 2011.

The question remains as to whether Shimmick Construction should have notified the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency of the willful and serious allegations when asked before the project started.

Shimmick and its then business partner appealed the violations. Though the OSHA website shows that an appeals board affirmed the violations as willful, a table included in the decision letter lists the violations as only serious.

In November 2017, Shimmick Construction and current partner answered “no” when asked if either had “been cited for any serious and willful violations by Cal/OSHA” over the past ten years in an SFMTA questionnaire.

Paul Rose, a spokesperson for the agency, said Shimmick Construction had represented that it met the requirements to pre-qualify for the bid.

It has also yet to be seen whether Shimmick Construction was complying with health and safety standards when a steel beam fell and killed 51-year-old Patrick Ricketts on Friday.

SEE RELATED: Technician killed by beam in Twin Peaks Tunnel was working with stepson

The San Francisco Police Department and Cal/OSHA launched an investigation into the death of the signal technician that evening, halting the seismic retrofit of the 100-year-old tunnel until the following day.

“We are deeply saddened by this terrible tragedy and we are working with all relevant agencies to investigate the matter,” John Gallagher, a spokesperson for Shimmick Construction, said in an email. “There are no further details at this time.”

Federal records show that Shimmick Construction has violated Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards 16 times since 2012. Six of those violations stemmed from the incident in Moorpark, Ca. where a forklift ejected and fatally crushed a laborer in November 2016.

“There’s a huge amount of effort to protect workmen,” said Gerald Cauthen, a retired civil engineer who is familiar with SFMTA projects. “The fact that this outfit had numerous violations, that’s unbelievable. I’m surprised they’re even in business in California.”

The citations from the Moorpark incident, which are under appeal, revolved around a worker who suffered internal injuries and a fractured pelvis on Nov. 16, 2016 when the forklift he was riding downhill lost control, went into a trench and ejected him from the cab, according to OSHA records.

The forklift crushed the laborer and he died four days later. One of the three serious violations included a $14,400 fine for not wearing a seatbelt.

Shimmick Construction has also been tied to 31 more violations through joint venture projects with other companies since 2008, the records show.

In 2011, Shimmick Construction and Obayashi Corp. were fined $197,373 for findings of serious, willful and general violations after a worker punctured a natural gas line with a backhoe not once but twice in Yorba Linda, Ca.

After the companies appealed the findings, the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board affirmed two $70,000 fines for allegations of willful violations. But the table in the decision letter also refers to the violations as serious in a summary table.

Ricketts, the worker who died Friday, was killed when a temporary steel beam fell over in the Twin Peaks Tunnel. His longtime friend, Tony Owens, recently told the San Francisco Examiner that Ricketts’ stepson was working for Shimmick Construction at the other end of the tunnel when the incident happened.

The workers were on a time crunch when the beam fell, according to Owens.

The SFMTA is scheduled to finish the project by the end of August.

The SFMTA awarded a joint contract in February to Shimmick Construction and Con-Quest Contractors, Inc. to rehabilitate the tunnel, which transports Muni riders on three lines between West Portal and Castro.

Ricketts left behind a wife in Williams, Ca. and two stepchildren. His funeral is planned for next week in Colusa.

Shimmick Construction has offered to cover the costs of the funeral for the family, according to Owens.

Patrick Ricketts, a signal technician working on the Twin Peaks Tunnel project, was killed Friday when a steel beam fell. (Courtesy photo)

This story has been updated from its original version for clarity and to include additional information.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Michael Barba
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