PG&E worker raises safety concerns

September 13, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Because of the disaster last week in San Bruno, PG&E safety record and practices will be coming under scrutiny probably like never before. Now, a PG&E employee is coming forward with stories to tell. Stories, he also plans to tell in court since he sued the utility a few weeks ago.

A long-time employee at PG&E claims the safety rules are not being followed and when violations are pointed out, they're often ignored, but he says it doesn't stop there.

"One of the jokes of my department is, PG&E management puts the safety cap on during safety meetings and takes it off when we all hit the field," said Mike Wiseman.

Wiseman has been a PG&E employee for 10 years, working on gas transmission pipelines. Three weeks ago, he filed a lawsuit against PG&E, complaining of harassment after he blew the whistle on safety violations. Wiseman complained that workers were sent into a ditch almost six feet deep without training or a required manual.

"I had the foreman take the picture of me in front of the ditch and at the end of the week, we had to submit this to my supervisor. He actually called me in his office and threatened to disciple me over this picture," said Wiseman.

Wiseman's attorney, Tony Bothwell, says the situation only got worse.

"This is the most extreme, bizarre case of retaliatory harassment that I have ever heard of. Confining him in a hotel in Stockton overnight, demanding that he turn over his car keys or they're going to fire him and then moving his car without his permission. Just unbelievable," said Bothwell.

Wiseman never worked on the gas line that exploded in San Bruno. However, he and his attorney both suggest PG&E's commitment to safety is under scrutiny. They argue that worker safety has implications for public safety.

"If the pressure in the line inadvertently is allowed to go too high because of the performance of a worker who's not sufficiently trained, then there is a public safety issue," said Bothwell.

The nagging concern about the integrity of other pipelines has prompted state regulators to order a complete inspection.

"They've asked us to inspect all 6,000 miles. All the pipelines will be inspected," said PG&E Senior Vice President Geisha Williams.

In the meantime, Wiseman says he's getting contacted by fellow workers, alerting him of other safety violations. However, they fear stepping forward.

"I'd tell my fellow employees of PG&E, start speaking up. Don't be afraid," said Wiseman.

PG&E issued a statement saying it has "...absolutely no tolerance... for retaliation. Every employee... is expected to top the work in process and raise his or her concerns if there is an unsafe situation."

The watchdog group Public Citizen says whistle blowers play a critical role in exposing safety violations, but they also risk losing their jobs and possible harassment.


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