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Auditor General Jack Wagner Faults Dept. of Labor and Industry for Lax Enforcement of PA One Call System
Audit finds that call requirement was not documented 41 percent of the time
HARRISBURG, Pa., Nov. 4, 2010 – With growing concern over the safety of underground pipelines, Auditor General Jack Wagner said today that the Department of Labor and Industry must improve its oversight of the Pennsylvania One Call System through adequate enforcement of the Underground Utility Line Protection Law, which was enacted to protect the health and safety of excavators, residents and property in Pennsylvania.
In a special performance audit released today, Wagner’s auditors found that the Department of Labor and Industry failed to consistently verify whether excavators made a required “one-call” to notify the PA One Call System of plans to perform excavation or demolition work; failed to hold excavators and businesses accountable to safety standards by failing to consistently enforce administrative penalties on violators of the law; and failed to investigate reported incidents in a timely manner.
Federal officials have recorded 2,840 significant gas pipeline accidents since 1990, more than a third of which caused deaths and significant injuries including a recent gas pipeline explosion in California that killed at least four people and injured dozens of others. Wagner noted that a 2008 gas pipeline explosion in Plum, Allegheny County, killed a 64-year-old man and injured a young girl. More recently, a crew working on a water line last week in Finleyville, Washington County, cut a gas line forcing at least seven families to evacuate their homes.
“A basic function of government is to protect its citizens,” Wagner said. “The Department of Labor and Industry must increase its vigilance in enforcing the Underground Utility Line Protection Law, so that the PA One Call System operates more effectively, and Pennsylvania residents can be assured that when excavation work occurs in their neighborhood, their safety and property are being treated as top priorities by state government.”
Wagner’s audit covered the period July 1, 2002 through June 30, 2008, with follow-up through December 2009. It found that 41 percent, or 20 of 49 closed files sampled by his auditors, lacked evidence that a Labor and Industry investigator validated whether or not a one-call was made, and that Labor and Industry failed to issue administrative penalties or fines to entities that received three or more warnings in a calendar year for violations of the Underground Utility Line Protection Law, mainly excavators failing to make a required one-call.
Auditors further noted that, in 2005, one entity received 32 warnings without being penalized. During the 2005 and 2006 calendar years, Labor and Industry had not issued any penalties or fines to excavators, and it had only issued a total of 20 penalties or fines during 2007 and 2008, bringing into question the quality of Labor and Industry’s enforcement efforts, Wagner said.
The Department of Labor and Industry’s Bureau of Labor Law Compliance is responsible for conducting investigations into alleged violations of the law once it receives an incident report from the excavator or utility owner, through the Internet, telephone, or hard copy report.
The audit found that from the same sample of 49 closed case files reviewed by Wagner’s auditors, four (8 percent) of the case files only contained a copy of the incident report but no further notes about what if any action was taken by Labor and Industry’s investigators; 40 (82 percent) of the files did not contain evidence of supervisory review; and 30 case files (61 percent) did not contain evidence documenting the conclusion of the investigation.
The Underground Utility Line Protection Law, enacted in 1974, created a communication system that is managed by a nonprofit organization known as the Pennsylvania One Call System, Inc. The organization provides a toll-free telephone number for excavators to call no less than three days, but no more than 10 days, prior to beginning excavation or demolition work so that utility owners can mark, stake or otherwise provide the position of their underground utility lines, in order to protect people and property.
Wagner’s report noted that more than 4,350 incidents had been reported to the Department of Labor and Industry between January 2005 and June 2008.
Wagner’s auditors found that the Department of Labor and Industry did not have a policy on how long it should take to complete a case file review, finding that it took investigators between two weeks to more than three years to complete reviews. From a sample of 78 open and closed case files reviewed by the audit team, 40 files were open for 12 months or less, 25 were open for 13 to 24 months, and 13 were open for more than 24 months before the investigation was completed.
“Failing to complete timely case file reviews delays making violators accountable for their actions and increases the likelihood that unsafe activities will occur and continue, which places the public at risk,” Wagner said. “The Department of Labor and Industry should act immediately to implement all of our audit recommendations to better protect property in Pennsylvania and to heighten the health and safety of excavation workers and residents of the commonwealth.”
Wagner made nine recommendations to the Department of Labor and Industry to strengthen the oversight of the PA One Call System, including that Labor and Industry should:
A complete copy of the audit report, including the Department of Labor and Industry’s response, can be found at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.
Auditor General Jack Wagner is responsible for ensuring that all state money is spent legally and properly. He is the commonwealth’s elected independent fiscal watchdog, conducting financial audits, performance audits and special investigations. The Department of the Auditor General conducts more than 5,000 audits per year. To learn more about the Department of the Auditor General, taxpayers are encouraged to visit the department’s website at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.
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