Rick Rice (LA)
SAN FRANCISCO -- Fulfilling objectives set by Governor Wilson, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has moved swiftly to facilitate quick reconstruction of highways damaged in the January Northridge earthquake and has succeeded in ensuring an unprecedented level of safety, Director Lloyd W. Aubry said.
"I have visited Los Angeles often to assess the progress on reconstruction," Aubry said. "One cannot underscore the urgency of reopening the damaged highways as quickly as possible in the interest of the region's economy and efficient transportation. Cal/OSHA has made every effort to facilitate a quick rebuilding while ensuring safety. The early reopening of the Santa Monica Freeway with a great safety record is an accomplishment of which we are proud."
Aubry noted that highway demolition and construction is high-hazard work. To ensure safety, Cal/OSHA's Consultation Service has regularly visited sites and has been working in an advisory role with contractors and subcontractors. Highway work has continued 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a result, Cal/OSHA has approved overtime for staff to visit sites outside of regular working hours, Aubry said. Although the work is high-hazard and is moving quickly, he said, the safety record has been excellent.
"With such an intense operation and high-hazard work, we are proud of the safety record on the Santa Monica Freeway project as well as the other reconstruction projects," Aubry said. The rapid progress at the Santa Monica Freeway site was accomplished with only one ankle injury when a bar rolled onto a worker's leg, and only a few other injuries that Cal/OSHA classifies as negligible.
Immediately following the earthquake, Governor Wilson directed all state agencies to exert every effort to assist in a quick recovery from the devastating earthquake. Cal/OSHA has played a central role in the effort because of its responsibility for enforcement of state workplace safety and health laws, including issuance of safety permits on certain projects for construction, demolition, and trenching.
In order to fulfill the Governor's directive and facilitate quick reconstruction of damaged highways, Cal/OSHA designed methods to expedite technical assistance and consultation services required by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) and contractors working on the highway rebuilding projects. Cal/OSHA has accelerated the construction process by issuing permits at CalTrans offices and at highway construction sites, rather than requiring contractors to spend the time to come into Cal/OSHA offices for permits. Aubry added that CalTrans is near letting contracts for rebuilding of the Interstate 5/Highway 14 interchange. When CalTrans does, he said, Cal/OSHA stands ready to meet immediately with subcontractors on permit requirements and will issue permits at CalTrans offices or in the field.
"The situation in the Los Angeles Basin, especially concerning transportation, clearly is an emergency," Aubry said. "We are proud of the unprecedented cooperation we have seen between agencies, and we are succeeding in getting the job done and doing it quickly as well as safely.
"Cal/OSHA's role has been as a facilitator rather than as an enforcer," Aubry said. "Our goal is to facilitate quick rebuilding while protecting safety. We are particularly pleased that we have a hand in accelerating reopening of the Santa Monica Freeway. The early reopening will be good for the region's transportation and economy. And, through Cal/OSHA's efforts, it was accomplished with a very high level of safety."
Cal/OSHA's efforts have not been limited to highway reconstruction. The Consultation Service also has participated in a one-stop permitting center in Reseda, where contractors may receive permits and necessary technical assistance from multiple agencies at one location.
With the Santa Monica Freeway scheduled to reopen on April 12, Cal/OSHA will continue to focus its attention on other rebuilding efforts. "We have a great success story with unprecedented safety on which to build," Aubry said.