NEW YORK (AP) _ The federal government, accusing New York Telephone Co. of not telling employees what hazardous materials they were working with, on Tuesday proposed $377,240 in fines for the company.

If the fines are levied, they would be the highest the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ever imposed on a telecommunications company, the agency said.

''It's a very widespread case,'' said Edward Jerome, an official at OSHA's Albany regional office. ''The company has the ... health and safety resources to get into compliance.''

The company will challenge the fines, said New York Telephone spokesman Tony Pappas. ''This company has always been interested in safety,'' Pappas said. ''A willful violation is not something the company would do.''

OSHA said it cited New York Telephone for 16 serious violations, 62 willful violations and two other violations. The citations resulted from 26 surprise visits to New York Telephone workplaces around the state in July.

OSHA claimed the company knowingly violated OSHA standards by failing to maintain safety information for each hazardous chemical used at workplaces and failing to provide employees with information and training on proper handling of hazardous materials, according to Jerome.

The agency also accused the company of failing to properly test employees for possible exposure to lead and failing to properly store compressed gas cylinders.

OSHA said it found employees at an office in Schenectady were not trained to deal with organic solvents, compressed gases, leaded solder and CRC 5-56, a petroleum distillate in an aerosol can.

''We are not alleging employees were overexposed to these materials,'' said Anthony DeSiervi, OSHA assistant regional administrator in New York City.

However, Marsha Love, regional health and safety director for the Communications Workers of America, said the union was concerned about what its members might have been exposed to.

She said the company had eight years to implement safety measures under state law that was superseded by federal law in August 1988.

The union has been talking to the company for some time about safety concerns, Love said. She said the CWA finally went to OSHA in July, and the agency began inspecting New York Telephone workplaces.