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East Side Access worker injuries prompt safety review

A file photo shows construction work taking place

A file photo shows construction work taking place on the Manhattan side of the East Side Access Project below Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 29, 2015 Credit: MTA Capital Construction / Rehema Trimiew

Three separate injuries to East Side Access construction workers in less than two weeks have raised new concerns, prompting MTA officials to review safety practices on the megaproject.

At a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's LIRR Committee Monday, agency officials detailed the three accidents.

The first occurred Feb. 27, when a chunk of recently applied concrete fell from a tunnel wall and struck a worker on the shoulder. East Side Access senior program manager Bill Goodrich said the worker, who was hospitalized, appeared to have prematurely proceeded with work on the concrete before it had finished setting.

Just four days later, on March 3, another worker suffered a hand injury from a circular saw. And just over a week after that, on March 11, a worker fell through a mat of reinforcing steel bars, or rebar, injuring a knee and requiring surgery.

"Because the safety of all employees, contractors and the general public is the top priority of MTA Capital Construction, we took steps immediately after these incidents to address issues to raise and enhance safety, including reviewing the already extensive safety protocols, practices and procedures which are in place on East Side Access," MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

Those included inspecting all power tools, reinforcing the importance of using a protective board walking surface when working with rebar and temporarily halting all concrete work.

MTA board member Ira Greenberg, representing the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council, noted at the meeting that the concrete incident was reminiscent of one in 2011 where falling concrete killed an East Side Access construction worker.

"You would think after that the contractor would have a heightened view of this and something like this would not have happened," Greenberg said.

A spokesman for Wisconsin-based contractor Michels Corp. did not immediately return a call for comment.

Since construction began in 2007, the $10.2 billion East Side Access project has been plagued by delays, cost overruns and contractor mishaps, including an October incident in which a giant drill nearly pierced a moving subway train.

The project, to link the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal via newly bored tunnels, is set to be completed in December 2022.

According to the MTA, East Side Access averaged about 2.1 injuries for every 100 workers last year. That's more than the U.S. Labor of Bureau Statistics' national standard for heavy and civil construction -- about 1.7 injuries.