State agency reviewing 5 companies after Durham gas explosion

The N.C. Department of Labor is reviewing the actions of the Durham Fire Department and five companies associated with the April 10 gas explosion in downtown Durham that killed two people and injured about two dozen others.

The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Division has opened inspections of Dominion Energy NC, parent company of PSNC Energy; Optic Cable Technology Inc..; PS Splicing; Tower Engineering; and Crown Castle, according to an email from the department.

A 911 call from a contractor laying fiber on the 100 block of North Duke Street indicated he hit a gas line before the deadly explosion.

Inspectors will determine whether procedures for marking utility lines and drilling were followed, and whether emergency evacuation procedures were in place, Department of Labor spokeswoman Mary Katherine Revels wrote.

In general, an Occupational Safety and Health Division investigation is triggered immediately after a worker dies or is hospitalized.

The general investigation, which can take up to six months, seeks to determine the cause of the incident, the companies involved, and whether violations occurred, among other issues.

If during the investigation it is determined the situation involves a company’s employees — which gives the state agency jurisdiction — the division opens an inspection, as it has done in this case. More companies could be added to the inspection list, state officials said.

The inspection reviews whether health and safety standards were violated, whether employees were exposed to dangers and related training records.

Citations and penalties can follow.

The companies being inspected in the gas explosion appear to involve a chain of contractors and subcontractors associated with laying fiber.

PSNC Energy was responsible for marking the gas lines before the companies installing the fiber cables moved forward. PSNC Energy also was called out to turn off the gas after the damage to a natural gas line was reported.

A Crown Castle subsidiary hired a contractor to install fiber in the area, the company has said.

Raleigh-based Tower Engineering acquired Utilis, which was was responsible for submitting the permit and managing the work site, city officials have said.

Don Smith, chief executive officer of Oxford-based PS Splicing, was injured in the explosion. Smith was on site the morning of the explosion to check on the installation of fiber lines but wasn’ t doing the work, a company official told The News & Observer earlier this month. WRAL reported that someone from PS Splicing reported the damaged gas line to North Carolina 811.

Efforts to reach PS Splicing offices on Monday were unsuccessful.

At this time, Optic Cable Technology’s role in the process is unclear.

The city, which approves and oversees fiber permits, doesn’t have a record of the company, city spokeswoman Beverly Thompson said

“If they were a subcontractor for PS Splicing, we wouldn’t have a record of it, as we don’t track subcontractors,” Thompson wrote in an email.

Optic Cable Technology is based in Durham and describes its work as “optic cable installation-digging-excavation-boring,” according to N.C. Secretary of State filings. Hector Temich-Hernandez is listed as a company official.

Reached by phone, Temich-Hernandez referred questions to attorney Matthew Suczynski, who did not return a telephone message left at his office Monday morning.

Staff reporter Tammy Grubb contributed to this report.

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Virginia Bridges covers criminal justice in Orange and Durham counties for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer. She has worked for newspapers for more than 15 years. In 2017, the N.C. Press Association awarded her first place for beat feature reporting. The N.C. State Bar Association awarded her the 2018 Media & Law Award for Best Series.