Contractor Sues U. of U. over Steam Accident

BY ERIN ALBERTY The Salt Lake Tribune First published 7 hours ago Updated 6 hours ago A contractor that was hired to lay pipe underground at the University of Utah is suing the university for nearly $5 million over a November plumbing failure that filled the school’s tunnel system with hot steam, scalding 12 workers. Nine of the 12 workers were employed by Thermal West Industrial Inc., of North Salt Lake, which was subcontracted to install hot-water piping trunks in a new tunnel system through the campus. The crew was working Nov. 1 in a vault beneath a parking lot near 300 South and 1850 East when at least 40,000 gallons of hot water was released into the tunnel system through a water line that was designated inactive. The water, estimated by state investigators to be 400 degrees, shot steam through the tunnels, burning all 12 workers in the vault and critically injuring three of them. Although the Occupational Health and Safety Administration found Thermal West Industrial was not at fault, the workers’ injury reports caused the contractor’s safety rating to plummet, the suit claims. Because of the company’s new safety rating, it lost contracts with its biggest customers — including Tesoro, Frontier and Sinclair oil companies — and has been restricted from bidding on several other projects. Thermal West Industrial is also suing for workers’ compensation costs. The contractor claims total damages of more than $4.8 million. In April, the Utah Labor Commission cited the university for failing to cap the inactive water line even though it was still connected to active lines. The lawsuit claims the line’s valve system remained connected to an electrical panel, which was set to open in the event of a power failure — the cause of November’s release. The university assured contractors that the line “was abandoned and inoperative and that there should be no concern about the open pipe,” the suit claims.

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