Contracting companies appeal OSHA citations

Sherwood Mechanical and University Mechanical & Engineering Contractors, both located in San Diego, and Farwest Insulation Contracting in Fullerton, Calif., recently appealed California Division of Occupational Safety and Health citations they received for violations that occurred at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel on May 19, 2008, the day there was an explosion in the hotel structure.

San Diego — Sherwood Mechanical and University Mechanical & Engineering Contractors, both located in San Diego, and Farwest Insulation Contracting in Fullerton, Calif., recently appealed California Division of Occupational Safety and Health citations they received for violations that occurred at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel on May 19, 2008, the day there was an explosion in the hotel structure. A total of eight contracting companies received violations.

The inspection by Cal-OSHA took approximately six months. A gas leak in the mechanical room on the fifth floor was found to be the cause of the explosion that blew out three floors, injuring fourteen people.

“Three people were seriously injured and in induced coma due to their burns,” said Erika Monterroza, Cal-OSHA spokeswoman. “They were hospitalized for five weeks. Two were admitted to the hospital for two to three days for fractures and related injuries. The other nine people injured were treated and released for minor injuries.”

Sherwood Mechanical was issued four Cal-OSHA citations with fines totaling $67,500. Two of the violations are categorized as serious. According to The California Code of Regulations, Title 8: Section 334, it is a serious violation in a place of employment if there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could occur from a company violation. The other two violations the company received are serious accident related citations.

In the citations, some of the violations state that the company had a code of safe practices that did not address methods for testing for concentration of natural gas, procedures for purging gas lines or methods to control operation of gas such as tagging and locking; did not instruct employees on methods for testing the concentration of natural gas using proper test indicators, procedures for purging gas lines or methods to control access to valves and pipes including tagging, locking and inspection procedures; did not install natural gas piping in accordance with good engineering practice or in a manner which provided reasonable safety for employees; and was allowing natural gas to escape from piping in the mechanical room, and the employer failed to test for the concentration of gas in the room.

One of the citations attributes the explosion to the release of natural gas in the mechanical room. The gas reached a concentration above the lower explosive limit for the gas in an area where there were ignition sources.

Sherwood Mechanical appealed all four citations on Nov. 26, 2008, according to Monterroza.

No one from Sherwood Mechanical responded to telephone calls or e-mails from CONTRACTOR magazine seeking comment about the hotel explosion and appealed citations.

Farwest Insulation Contracting received one general Cal-OSHA citation in the amount of $375, and appealed it on Nov. 26, 2008. University Mechanical and Engineering Contractors also received one general citation for $375, and appealed it on Dec. 3, 2008. The violations were for not having an effective heat illness prevention program in place for its employees at the hotel project site.

Both contracting companies did not respond to telephone calls from CONTRACTOR magazine regarding the hotel explosion and appealed citations.

At this time, no other contracting companies cited for violations at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel have appealed the Cal-OSHA citations.

The hotel project met all city and building codes before and after the explosion happened, according to Lynda Pfeifer, senior public information officer for Development Services at the City of San Diego.

“After the explosion, Hilton's design professionals (John A. Martin & Associates of Nevada, structural engineers) evaluated the structure, plumbing and mechanical systems, and considered the structure to be safe to occupy and for the construction to continue in accordance with the approved plans and documents,” commented Pfeifer.

The hotel, linked to the San Diego Convention Center opened Dec. 3, 2008. A grand opening is scheduled for early February 2009.