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Apr 3, 2014

Official: Inspectors ignored safety rules

SAO PAULO -- Safety problems at the stadium hosting the World Cup opener in Brazil were being ignored so work could finish in time for the tournament, a top labor official said in an interview published on Thursday.

A top labor official said safety inspectors ignored problems at the Itaquerao stadium, where a worker died last week.

One of the main labor ministry officials in Sao Paulo told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that inspectors were "looking the other way" so the already-delayed stadium would be completed before the June 12 opener.

Also on Thursday, Sao Paulo state prosecutors released a statement pointing to irregularities at the Itaquerao stadium, saying it could close the venue "even during the World Cup" if problems weren't fixed.

Labor officials halted the installation of 20,000 temporary seats on Monday, saying new safety measures had to be added following the death of a 23-year-old worker on Saturday.

Inspectors were at the venue on Thursday, but there was no decision on when the work can resume. Organizers expect the interruption to end next week, which would not significantly affect the stadium's completion in time for the first match between Brazil and Croatia. FIFA still expects the venue ready in mid-May.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on Thursday that World Cup construction will be "well done," but he criticized Brazilian authorities for starting late on stadium projects and for not providing enough worker safety.

"Who is responsible for this?" Blatter asked. "Is it FIFA? They are pointing at FIFA, and it's not true. It's basic to provide workers with safe conditions to do the work. We can't go and watch at every construction site."

Fast Engenharia, the company in charge of the temporary seats, said it gave officials everything they requested to show the work site was safe. Labor inspectors were expected back at the venue on Friday.

"We will only allow the work to resume when we are sure that lives are not at risk and workers are safe," said Luiz Antonio Medeiros, the labor ministry's superintendent in Sao Paulo.

It was Medeiros who earlier told Folha that the importance of the stadium made inspectors ignore some of the irregularities.

"If it wasn't a World Cup stadium, officials would have reported precarious work (conditions) and would have halted the construction," he told Brazil's largest newspaper.

He said complaints would "delay the work even more."

Later Thursday, Medeiros said he was expressing his "personal opinion" based on "talks with technicians, the problems with excessive overtime and lack of rest to workers."

"If it was a different company, in a different moment, I don't know if the construction would still be underway," he was quoted as saying by Terra website.

The labor ministry's press office downplayed the comments, saying inspections were conducted, especially after last year's accident that killed two workers when a crane collapsed.

Sao Paulo prosecutors said they could partially close the venue if organizers don't address a long list of irregularities presented by civil defense officials. The irregularities were not specifically related to the area where the worker died this weekend.

The worker's mother told Brazilian media he had previously complained of lack of safety at the construction site. She denied he was negligent, as authorities indicated by saying he didn't connect to a safety cable at the time of the incident.

The Itaquerao was one of the stadiums that was not ready by the end of last year as expected by FIFA.

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