Subcontractor that dug into gas line before explosion had six OSHA citations in five years

OSHA has cited the Tualatin-based Loy Clark Pipeline Company six times over the last five years.

The subcontractor that dug into a gas pipeline before Wednesday's explosion in Northwest Portland is now under inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The Tualatin-based Loy Clark Pipeline Company said Thursday it followed proper protocols before digging.

Meanwhile, KATU has confirmed OSHA previously cited the subcontractor six times over the last five years.

Those citations include serious violations like exposing an employee to the danger of a cave-in, not properly evaluating airborne hazards on a job site and not putting up proper road signs.

There are "other than serious" violations as well like having a wire rope swing without an identification tag.

Oregon's Construction Contractors Board said Loy Clark has an active license and is in good standing.

The company's president, Michael Bass, told KATU his crew followed proper protocols, calling before digging Wednesday to request a "locate," or check of the location.

Melissa Moore, a spokeswoman for Northwest Natural, confirms Loy Clark staff members did call before digging like they're supposed to. She said the call and locate were done in September.

"This particular situation was very rare," Moore said, "but unfortunately many utility lines, water bureau, electricity, Comcast, gas, all are buried in the ground in various places in the city and they are hit all too often ... And we're trying to educate people, homeowners, contractors alike to always call 811 and have locates done."

Bass said a Loy Clark electrical crew was doing underground work when they nicked a gas line and immediately called the fire bureau and Northwest Natural.

Moore said Northwest Natural's maps of gas lines are accurate and that the incident is still under investigation.

"Northwest Natural has one of the most modern pipeline systems in the entire nation. Throughout many parts of the nation there’s still cast iron and bare steel. We’ve replaced all that," Moore said. "Our main message in this situation is if you smell gas to leave the area and call us."

Moore said the damaged line was a one-inch, coated steel pipe installed in 1985. She said they replaced six feet of it 20 years ago and a survey of the line in January found no leaks or corrosion.

OSHA said it's also inspecting Portland Fire & Rescue in lieu of Wednesday's explosion, which is protocol anytime workers, in this case firefighters, are injured on a work site.

A spokeswoman for the Loy Clark Pipeline Company sent KATU the following statement:

Yesterday’s events affected many people in the Portland community. Our thoughts are with the people who were injured or displaced. We are grateful for the work of the Portland Fire Department and Police Department for the actions they took to keep so many people safe.

The incident occurred when Loy Clark’s electrical division was working at a construction site for a new building. Loy Clark Pipeline Co. will be working with investigators. Additionally, we are partnering with NW Natural to provide hotel rooms for those in need of shelter and we are providing support to Red Cross Cascades Region.

Our priority is assisting those who have been affected and we are working on setting up a location and a phone number for people who have losses associated with this accident.

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