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The 380 construction workers at the Fuel Process Restoration project at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory were idled Friday when work was suspended because of safety concerns.

The Department of Energy sent a "Tiger team" inspection crew to the site for an in-depth review this week, and it immediately turned up safety problems.MK-Ferguson of Idaho, INEL's construction manager, said work on the $400 million FPR facility will remain shut down until the safety problems are fixed.

The specific concerns included improper barricading of construction "pits," and scaffolds and ladders that require upgrading to meet current standards. MK-Ferguson said the concerns do not pose a health or safety threat to the general public.

"We don't know exactly why our people were laid off, but we've been told there apparently were some kind of safety violations at the project," said Ed Bamberry, business agent for the Ironworkers Union in Pocatello.

Bob Lawrence, MK-Ferguson president and general manager, said the company has begun an investigation of the safety matters. Work will not resume on the FPR building until the investigation is complete and confirmed violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act have been corrected.

INEL is not required to comply with OSHA standards, but the federal nuclear research center is working closely with the agency to meet job-safety regulations on a voluntary basis, said Department of Energy spokesman Brad Bugger.

Lawrence said MK-Ferguson plans safety compliance inspections on all other ongoing construction projects at INEL. He said those inspections will determine if additional corrective measures are needed to meet OSHA standards.

Construction workers at FPR are employed by several subcontractors of MK-Ferguson.

"The investigation and implementation of corrective actions will be concluded expeditiously," Lawrence said. "However, no production work will e allowed to proceed until worker safety is guaranteed."

When it goes on line, the FPR will extract enriched uranium from dissolved nuclear fuel. Construction began on the facility in 1988, with work scheduled to be complete late in 1993.