Sunday, June 15, 2008

Unqualified Hardhats Feared as Fake Crane-Safety Papers Found

BY BRIAN KATES

Luis Alvarez holds "OSHA 30" card (below) he says he was given by a foreman just for watching a two-hour lecture.

The probe began after a bogus certificate surfaced in the hands of an unqualified worker at a Chelsea job site on June 4, the same day Mayor Bloomberg announced the new requirement.

The worker, Luis Alvarez, a 32-year-old Mexican immigrant, said he was given the wallet-sized card by a construction foreman in case federal job-safety inspectors questioned him.

The card - also required for certain construction supervisors and workers in high-risk jobs - certifies the holder has completed 30 hours of safety training and passed a rigorous 40-question U.S. Labor Department test.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issues the certificates, known as OSHA 30 cards.

"If anybody can get an OSHA 30 card, that's a very dangerous situation," said Martin Daly, director of training for the District Council of Carpenters. "This is for people working as supervisors and in hazardous jobs."

Alvarez told The News he was handed the card after a two-hour safety lecture. He said he did not take a test.

"They told me I needed the card because I was working like a supervisor and I should have it in case OSHA came to check," Alvarez said. "I did not ask for the card, they just gave it to me. I didn't know it was wrong."

Alvarez said he received it "three or four months ago."

The laminated card, dated Feb. 27, 2008, bears the OSHA logo, a trainer's signature and registration No. 600221095. It looks identical to a legitimate card, experts at the New York District Council of Carpenters said.

The union seized the card from Alvarez when he applied for membership. It was clear he lacked the qualifications, officials said.

Union officials reported the case to OSHA.

As a matter of policy, OSHA Regional Director Richard Mendelson refused to confirm or deny whether the agency is investigating.

A source close to the case revealed that federal investigators want to determine the source of the card and whether it is a masterful forgery or a genuine OSHA document obtained on the black market.

The Labor Department was unable to determine how many workers legitimately carry OSHA 30 cards in the city.

Most workers receive them after completing a three-week course administered by a union or by one of several for-profit schools in the city.

Bloomberg's announcement that the cards would be required for all workers who erect and take down tower cranes was hailed by state and local politicians, construction industry leaders and community activists.

It came amid citywide outrage over the death of two workers four days before in a crane collapse on E. 91st St. Seven other people were killed in another crane collapse March 15 on E. 51st St.

Alvarez identified the man who gave him the card as Timmy Mahoney, a foreman at 200 11th Ave., a luxury condo rising at the corner of W. 24th St.

"I don't know nothing about it," Mahoney said before hanging up.

Mahoney's brother, Michael Mahoney, the general contractor, tried to rip a camera from a News photographer who took his picture. "It never happened," he shouted over his shoulder, referring to the issuance of the card, as he walked from the troubled job site.

The 19-story condo, known as the Sky Garage, is the only residential building of its type in the city. It will feature an elevator to lift residents' cars virtually to their apartment doors.

In March, The News reported that the Buildings Department cited "questionable construction practices" at the site and a partial stop-work order has been in effect there since May 28.

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