OSHA Fines Contractors $464K for Safety Hazards in WTC Tower Fire

By | February 21, 2008

The federal government fined two contractors hired to dismantle a condemned ground zero skyscraper $464,500 on Tuesday for more than 40 safety hazards at the building, where two firefighters died in a fire last summer.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued 19 citations to general contractor Bovis Lend Lease and 25 to subcontractor John Galt Corp. for violations at the former Deutsche Bank tower.

Galt, which was fired a week after the Aug. 18 blaze, was issued $271,500 in fines, while Bovis’ fines totaled $193,000. It was the largest fine ever levied against Bovis, a contractor on several high-profile projects in the city including the Time Warner Center and the Sept. 11 memorial.

According to OSHA, the contractors failed to inspect a standpipe that didn’t work the day of the fire, depriving firefighters of a water supply to fight the blaze. It also said the contractors allowed construction materials to block emergency stairwells, and that they failed to prevent workers from smoking.

Careless smoking is believed to have started the fire at the building, which has been condemned since the World Trade Center’s south tower collapsed into it on Sept. 11, 2001, leaving a trail of toxic debris.

The government bought the 40-story building four years ago to try to take it down; the building has been dismantled to 26 stories, but the project has been delayed by disputes with regulators, several other accidents and the discovery of human remains of Sept. 11 victims.

The fines were more than four times the amounts for which OSHA had cited the contractors previously for work at the site.

Bovis said in a statement Tuesday it “strongly disagrees” with the citations and would appeal.

“Demolition of 130 Liberty Street is one of the most complicated and highly regulated abatement and demolition projects ever in New York City,” the company said. “Bovis’ work prior to the August 18th incident was proceeding under an approved and closely monitored deconstruction and abatement plan.”

A Galt executive didn’t immediately return a telephone message Tuesday.

The contractors, hired by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. rebuilding agency to take the building down, did not have fire extinguishers, emergency exit signs or a fire prevention program, OSHA said. Several scaffolds were erected too close to power lines, guardrails and stair rails were missing, and electrical wires were left exposed, OSHA said.

Most work at the building has been on hold since the fire, although Bovis hired a new subcontractor and presented new safety plans. The LMDC has said work to clean the building’s upper floors of toxic dust could begin next month.

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