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Originally published May 23, 2012 at 12:46 PM | Page modified May 24, 2012 at 1:20 PM

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Beer-drinking bridge builders will get training from a counselor

Professionals working on the Highway 520 bridge project needed to be told this week not to drink on the job, after some were filmed having beer in an Eastside office building.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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A company building the new Highway 520 bridge will be sending employees to a training session with a counselor, after some were filmed drinking beer at a Bellevue office.

The drinking occurred in a temporary office of Kiewit-General-Manson construction team. The team is being paid $587 million from gas taxes and tolls to widen part of the highway's Eastside approaches, build new columns and spans over the shoreline and assemble the floating pontoons on Lake Washington.

KOMO-TV broke the story Tuesday, using hidden-camera footage that showed employees with beers in hand or on desks. The station also showed two men each bringing a half-rack of beer to the office. After being told to leave, a reporter opened a lunchroom refrigerator door to find the two 12-packs inside.

Kiewit said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that "safety is and always will be paramount on all of our projects" and that alcohol use during work shifts violates company policy. An internal investigation is under way. "We are also scheduling training events with counselors to discuss alcohol issues with employees," the company said.

Employers in Washington state are required to prohibit alcohol and narcotics in all workplaces, except for products they are selling to customers, under Washington Administrative Code 296-800-11025.

The drinking didn't involve 35 state employees in another part of the Bellevue office park, said Steve Pierce, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

The DOT is still looking into how widespread the drinking was, Pierce said. The television report quoted an unnamed source saying people drank beer almost every day.

Pierce said there's no evidence of alcohol use in the construction zone, where earth-moving machines are widening the roadbed and cranes are lifting hundreds of concrete girders to create new parklike lids. That part of Highway 520 is being built by a different set of contractors.

The state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is considering whether to investigate. Bans on alcohol originated at construction and logging work sites, but now extend to all employment, to enforce a broader safety culture, said L&I spokesman Hector Castro.

"If it's inappropriate for construction, it should be inappropriate for every office," he said.

Kiewit and General also are working in Grays Harbor to fabricate most of the pontoons under a separate $367 million contract. The companies partnered on the 2009 Hood Canal Bridge.

"Kiewit has an excellent safety record," said Pierce, calling the beer incident surprising and discouraging. "I don't think a pocket of some kind of activity with alcohol besmirches their overall record."

Company executives and the state's 520 project director have sent written warnings to the job site, and Secretary Paula Hammond messaged the entire DOT workforce, Pierce said.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom.

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