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City will soon be able to revoke permits at unsafe work sites

In October, a memorial was set up at the South End work site where two workers died.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

City officials will soon have the authority to deny, revoke, or suspend a permit for any contractor with a poor record of ensuring their workers’ safety.

The City Council approved the safety measure this week, sending a strong message to anyone pulling permits after two construction workers died in October when a water line burst under a South End street, flooding the trench and thwarting attempts to save the men.

The employees — Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks — worked for Atlantic Drain Services, a Roslindale company that was found to have a long and troubling history of violations, including citations for workers lacking oxygen underground and for conditions that could lead to cave-ins, federal records show.


Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who filed the ordinance proposal in November, aimed to hold individuals and companies accountable and sought better protection for workers by giving the city the power to intervene on their behalf.

The ordinance requires that individuals or businesses receiving work permits in Boston to report their safety record – current or unresolved — including any violations with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Previously, the city did not have the authority to require that history and was not notified of OSHA violations.

“We know how dangerous work sites can be, and in Boston we are committed to doing all we can to protect those working in our city,” Walsh said at the time.

The ordinance updates Boston’s municipal code, allowing a city officer to reject a permit to a person, corporation, or business with a record of unsafe, hazardous, or dangerous practices.

The rule will be effective once the mayor signs the measure, which has not yet reached his desk, according to the city clerk’s office.

Al Vega, interim executive director of Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health, hailed the council’s actions, saying it sends a strong statement that Boston “expects employers to keep workers and the public safe.”


He added that the permit process is a good vehicle for ensuring that safety.

“The deaths of Robert and Kelvin were so needless . . . that dramatic action was needed to ensure tragedies like this would never happen again in our city,’’ Vega said in a statement.

After the men’s deaths, advocates — including the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council, the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, and Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12 — urged public officials to fix gaping holes in city and state regulations that have repeatedly put workers, first responders, and the public at risk during water and sewer projects, according to the coalition.

The council also passed a related measure that sought city control and better recording of the number of permits granted and who has them. That measure, sponsored by Councilor at-Large Michael Flaherty, requires that contractors report in detail all open permits in the city, including the addresses, dates of issuance, status of the project, and expected date of completion. Failure to fully comply will result in automatic denial of new permits.

Officials at Atlantic Drain Services could not be reached for comment. The company, which advertises as one of Boston’s “most successful and respected drain cleaning companies,” faces tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fines for violations reaching back to at least 2012, according to OSHA records and an agency spokesman.

Federal regulators issued nearly $74,000 in fines against the company in 2012 for four repeated safety infractions and one “willful” violation — the most severe penalty imposed — for problems uncovered at a Harrison Avenue worksite in Boston, records show.


Kay Lazar of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Meghan E. Irons can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.