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Hearing explores stiffer safety requirements for city contractors

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Supervisor Norman Yee is calling for city departments to do a better job when it comes vetting contractors’ safety records for construction work.

Yee held a hearing at the Board of Supervisors Government and Audits Committee on Wednesday months after construction worker Patrick Ricketts, 51, died when a steel beam fell on top of him during work on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Twin Peaks Tunnel project.

Questions arose about the safety record of Shimmick Constriction — the main contractor on the project — when a search for the company’s safety record showed a number of worker-related incidents on Cal/OSHA’s website.

When submitting a bid to the SFMTA, the company had said “no” to question about whether it had “serious and willful” violations with Cal/OSHA in the past 10 years, said Siew-Chin Yeong, the SFMTA’s director of capital programs and construction.

Yeong said the company did answer truthfully:

“We did do a check afterwards and we confirmed per OSHA website for all closed cases involving Shimmick, they do not have serious and willful violations…”

Yeong also noted that companies are submitting bids to the transit agency under penalty of perjury.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin suggested that the SFMTA change the wording around the question so that the transit agency can get more insight about a company’s past incidents:

“The way the question is written I think is problematical in so far as it can take years to close out a case and there are appeal procedures where you could have a serious and willful incident but if the company, in this case Shimmick, is appealing that, it’s not a closed case.”

Yeong said they are working with the City Attorney’s Office to rework its bidding process but said it can be difficult to obtain more information about a contractor’s ongoing appeal or litigation of an incident.

Since the Twin Peaks Tunnel incident, the SFMTA has made a number of changes reviewing the safety records of potential contractors for projects that cost $1 million or more, said Yeong.

The SFMTA will also require the winning bidder not have more than three Cal/OSHA violations that are willful, serious, serious and willful or repeat violations in the last five years.

Transit officials are also considering other proposals including having potential bidders submit CAL/OSHA Form 300A that reports a contractor’s past worker incidents within the past three years to identify any patterns of work safety issues.

The Department of Public Works and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission also presented how they vet potential contractors.

Yee said he is looking for citywide consistency when it comes to agencies when reviewing safety records of potential contractors:

“I would like to offer a challenge that we quickly get to the bottom of this or at least come up with a uniform, consistent way of evaluating safety issues for city contracts.”

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