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UIC employees claim worksite poisoning

December 1st 8:41 pm | Shady Grove Oliver Print this article   Email this article  

A handful of construction workers are taking an oilfield giant to court over claims a hazardous work environment left them disabled.

Christopher Lovely, Steven Adams and Robert Defoe are suing Baker Hughes, its oilfield operations arm and Baker Petrolite Corporation for poisoning them through exposure to toxic gasses at a Kenai construction site in 2014.

The plaintiffs were employees of North Slope-based Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp. at the time, which was under contract with Baker Hughes to construct a chemical transfer building.

Two of the plaintiffs, Lovely and Adams, spoke publicly about the lawsuit before Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth granted a motion to prevent further pre-trial publicity on Nov. 21.

"In order to preserve the status quo and ensure any order by the court is not overtaken by events, counsel for all parties shall immediately inform their clients to refrain from any further media contacts or participating directly or indirectly in any further pretrial publicity about this matter," the order reads.

In an interview with KTVA, which first reported on this story earlier in the month, Lovely and Adams described how the working conditions left them with brain damage, shaking hands, dizziness and more. A MediCenter doctor attested to their condition in a letter on their behalf, saying they had been left "100 percent disabled."

"Employees of UIC had to be taken to clinic after experiencing headaches, sore throat and burning eyes," Superior Court documents say, referring to the particular incident that happened on May 8, 2014, during which the workers were exposed.

According to those documents, which are in part based on testimony and field notes from employees at the time, the old transfer facility, which is about 40 feet from the site of the new building, had a horizontal pipe that was venting "toxic gasses out of the back of the building aimed at the site of the construction."

The chemical in question is named as RE31151CRW, which is known to cause depression of the central nervous system, skin burns and respiratory system irritation.

"...[T]he facts leading up to [the] event show callousness beyond simply putting the construction crew in danger on a particular day," a plaintiffs' opposition reads. "According to Dan Shepherd, the field superintendent for UIC, backed up by his contemporaneous notes, Shepherd asked the old CTF (chemical transfer facility) manager Clyde Willis about toxic chemicals emanating from the old CTF on Feb. 27 because he was worried about the horizontal exhaust pipe. Willis claimed the chemicals were not harmful."

In the KTVA interview, Lovely and Adams said they complained about a funny smell, like rotten eggs, while they were on site. They said they told their superintendent, who passed it up the chain, but nothing was done in a timely manner.

A subsequent investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found Baker Petrolite Corp., the company name given for the operator of the old building, was in violation of safety standards, court documents show. Additionally, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter to Willis via Baker Hughes, saying the company was in violation of standards.

That is, in part, why the plaintiffs are now claiming the company knew the danger was present and did nothing to prevent harm to its workers.

The defendants, being Baker Hughes and its subsidiaries, are hoping the case will be thrown out based on rules regarding past compensation for workplace injury. However, if the case goes to trial, it should begin at the start of next year.

 

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