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National Grid stops dealing with contractor in state probe

National Grid has ended a relationship with a construction company implicated in a state investigation over alleged cheating in worker qualification tests for natural-gas line work.

At issue according to the state Public Service Commission is whether employees contracted for the work had answers to the tests used to certify them as properly trained for various gas-line work. At least one other company, which has done work in New York City, also has been implicated, the state said.

In a statement, National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said the utility “terminated our contracts and business relationship with Network Infrastructure,” a Hempstead-based utility contractor as a result of the state’s findings.

Ladd added, “We are currently implementing a plan to complete any unfinished work by this contractor and inspect work that may have been affected by this issue.”

No charges have been filed and Network Infrastructure has denied the heating claims.

In a statement, Network Infrastructure president Patrick Clarke said, “At no time did any employee perform any safety-sensitive task that he/she was not fully trained, qualified, or authorized to perform, nor did any exam cheating take place.”

He urged people “not rush to judgment, as we believe that the results of these investigations will exonerate Network Infrastructure.”

Public Service Commission spokesman James Denn said the agency is looking into whether Network Infrastructure and another contractor, Bond Brothers, “had access to portions of the written examinations” used to certify gas workers in advance of testing.

“Since PSC first learned of this significantly troubling issue, letters have been sent to utilities and we will be reviewing the findings and responses closely and will hold all companies and individuals accountable for any breach,” he said.

Bond Brothers in a statement said, “At all times our employees performed tasks for which they were properly trained and qualified. We are conducting an internal review and providing full cooperation to those involved.”

Ladd said it was too soon to determine whether work completed by the contractor was faulty and needed to be replaced.

In a letter to utilities, the Department of Public Service chief Audrey Zibelman said the agency concluded that a “breach of testing protocols occured” in exams offered to utilities by the Northeast Gas Association, an industry group used by nine states for worker certification.

She directed gas companies to suspend use of the Northeast Gas qualification process until gas companies themselves develop new testing procedures.

Tom Kiley, chief executive of the Northeast Gas Association, acknowledged the problem and said testing has been suspended in all nine Northeast states until new tests and new security protocols are developed. They should be in place by Jan. 23, he said.

The group offers 52 different tests for gas pipeline work, and thousands of workers a year take them. Workers must be re-certified every three to five years, he said.

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