Managers at California's largest nuclear plant won safety bonuses for years by hiding employees' on-the-job injuries and dodging state reporting rules, it was reported Friday.
In testimony during nine days of regulatory hearings this month, employees of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station alleged the utility deliberately covered up employee injuries in order to win safety bonuses, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The paper quoted the employees as saying that to avoid reporting employee injuries, safety managers at the plant tried to persuade doctors to close wounds with Steri-Strips in lieu of stitches or to issue over-the-counter medications instead of ordering prescription drugs. Other times, they mischaracterized on- site injuries as the result of mishaps at home.
Such injuries are still covered up today, because facility operator Southern California Edison penalizes workers who are involved in incidents that are deemed avoidable, according to the paper.
The cover-up has been going on since 1998 despite a string of e- mail and hotline complaints from San Onofre employees to Edison management.
"If you have an accident and you can somehow hobble your way out of the gate without anybody noticing it, then it's in your best interest to do that," said Carl Wood, a former state regulator who is representing the plant's labor union and the employees who provided testimony to the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
None of the allegations involved radioactive releases or accidents that threatened public safety. They nonetheless reveal a compromised safety culture at San Onofre, said Thomas Barnett, a safety manager at the plant until 2000, when he was reassigned, he said, because he refused to cover up injuries.
Edison did not dispute the testimony from Barnett and two other San Onofre employees. But executives said that since that time they had eliminated bonuses based on injury statistics. What's more, utility Chief Executive Alan J. Fohrer said Tuesday in an interview that he "would never be in favor of disciplining an employee because they were hurt."
The new allegations about skewed safety reports came to light as part of an investigation by the state PUC into Edison's use of rigged data to win 50 million dollars in ratepayer-funded rewards for its customer service and workplace safety performance from 1997 to 2003, said the paper.