Bechtel faces $150,000 fine after Hanford worker loses toes

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJune 1, 2012 

The Department of Energy proposed a $150,000 fine against Bechtel National on Thursday following two construction incidents at the Hanford vitrification plant.

In the first incident in July 2010, a worker had to have two toes amputated after a 569-pound guide rail he was trying to position slipped and landed on his foot.

Field supervisors should have provided a mechanical way to move the guide rail, according to the DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security's Office of Enforcement and Oversight.

The second incident in March 2011 is considered a "near miss." Equipment needed to lift and flip over a 5,000-pound panel of formwork -- a metal form for fabricating concrete panels -- was improperly rigged.

"DOE considers the two material handling events and the associated regulatory violations to be of high safety significance," John Boulden III, director of the Office of Enforcement and Oversight, said in a letter to Bechtel. "A breakdown in management planning, scheduling, execution and work control were major factors contributing to these events."

DOE could have proposed a fine of up to $187,500, but reduced that amount because of the actions Bechtel took after the incidents to correct problems.

"Bechtel investigated each incident, modified oversight procedures and work processes and enhanced training and supervision to ensure employee safety and prevent a recurrence of similar events," Rick Bradford, Bechtel deputy project director/project manager, said in a message to employees late Thursday afternoon.

Bechtel originally concluded that the foot injury was caused by inadequate work planning that did not provide for a mechanical way to move and secure a hot cell door guide rail that was sitting on dunnage, or material meant to keep it off the floor, according to the DOE letter.

However, Bechtel management directed a re-evaluation of the analysis of the cause of the accident that resulted in a change in the cause from "less than adequate daily work planning" to "less than adequate execution of work."

"DOE determined that both evaluations lacked a level of rigor and depth necessary to support the root cause or understand fully the contributing organizational and process weaknesses," the letter said.

Despite Bechtel's efforts to identify and address deficiencies related to the accident, "the Office of Enforcement and Oversight remains concerned that many of the corrective actions lack specific linkage to the regulatory violations and programmatic deficiencies associated with the event and may not be sufficient to prevent recurrence," the letter said.

In the second event, a carpenter crew attempted to lift and flip over the panel of formwork weighing more than 5,000 pounds using a rigging configuration with two lifting brackets that each were rated for 2,000 pounds, and a wedge clip securing one of the lift brackets failed. The manufacturer's rigging guide called for three lifting brackets to hoist the panel.

Bechtel determined the apparent cause was workers not complying with procedures and then took steps to improve compliance with work instructions, worker training and inspections, according to the letter. The actions appear to address the issue, according to the letter.

The Office of Enforcement and Oversight set $75,000 as the proposed fine for violations of hazard identification in both incidents, determining it was a Severity Level I violation, and allowed no reduction from the maximum allowed.

It set $56,250 as the amount of the proposed fine for hazard prevention and abatement, also a Severity Level 1 violation, which was a reduction from the $75,000 also possible for that violation.

The rest of the proposed fine is $18,750, reduced from $37,500, for training issues, a Severity Level 2 violation.

Bechtel has 30 days to contest the fine.

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