By: Ted Goldberg
State workplace regulators say a construction company hired for a fiber optic cable installation job in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond neighborhood committed a series of safety infractions before an employee dug into an underground natural gas line in February, setting off a major explosion and fire.
This week, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health hit the firm, Kilford Engineering, with three citations, marking the end of one of several investigations into the rupture that sent flames soaring 50 feet into the air.
Cal/OSHA says the company failed to have a competent person inspect the work to identify hazardous conditions, did not correct unsafe conditions at the site and lacked a code of safe practices.
The fines that go along with the Cal/OSHA citations total $1,965, a price tag that angered an attorney for two tenants in a nearby apartment damaged by the fire who have sued Kilford and several other companies involved in the cable project.
“Less than $2,000? Did they send this to Kilford in an envelope inside a bouquet of roses?” lawyer Ara Jabagchourian asked Friday. “It doesn’t send a message. It doesn’t motivate anyone to correct anything.”
Matt Barkett, a spokesman for Kilford, said the company had no comment. He said he didn’t know whether the firm planned to appeal the citations.
The Feb. 6 explosion on the northwest corner of Parker Avenue and Geary Boulevard led to a three-alarm fire that burned for more than two hours as PG&E crews excavated the street nearby to shut off the flow of natural gas.
The blaze gutted a restaurant and damaged several other buildings. It prompted investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board, the California Public Utilities Commission, Cal/OSHA and the San Francisco Fire Department, and led to calls for a Board of Supervisors hearing.
A preliminary report by the NTSB found that the fire ignited 10 seconds after crews struck the gas line. The board, which has yet to complete its final factual report on the incident, said that five Kilford workers escaped injury because of “audible and visual cues” indicating that a mini-excavator had struck the line.
The Kilford employee who struck the line told San Francisco fire investigators “he was digging with the bucket end of the excavator/backhoe when suddenly he heard a ‘bang’ and saw gas coming out of the street,” according to the Fire Department’s investigative findings.
The SFFD report found that the blaze caused more than $10 million in damage to the residential and commercial buildings in the area, the street and several parked vehicles.
The project involved several companies. Verizon, which received a permit for the fiber optic cable installation, hired MasTec, a Florida infrastructure engineering firm, to be the job’s main contractor.
MasTec hired Advanced Fiber Works, a New Jersey-based telecommunications company, to install the cables. Advanced Fiber Works, in turn, hired Kilford to dig a trench, install conduit and seal up the excavation. Advanced Fiber Works was expected to eventually snake cables through the conduit.
In the days after the accident, KQED reported that Advanced Fiber Works was granted a business license by the California Secretary of State’s Office on the day the project was to begin and lacked a state contractor’s license.