Fatal Falls: The Downside of the Construction Boom

January 26, 2016
Contact: Danielle Filson, 646-335-0443
WNYCOSH Releases Report Citing Serious Construction Industry Violations, Too Few OSHA Inspections & Inadequate Enforcement. The Report can be accessed here.
Scaffold Safety Law Must Be Maintained, OSHA Needs More Funding and Stronger Fines to Ensure Workplace Safety
Buffalo, NY – A diverse group of advocates and organizations committed to improving workplace safety gathered today to release a new report, “Fatal Flaws: The Downside of the Construction Boom.” Findings revealed that 83% of OSHA inspections led to a violation, the vast majority of them defined as “serious.”  But the average penalty was $1,963, which advocates state is too low to deter violations effectively.  Because of OSHA’s severe budget constraints, inspections are limited, which leaves construction workers at risk at a time when the construction industry is booming.
The groups called for increased fines and more money to hire enough OSHA inspectors to adequately inspect workplaces.  The groups also emphasized the need to maintain state laws like the Scaffold Safety Law.  Under this law, general contractors and property owners (other than one- and two-family homeowners) are responsible for providing protections for their workers against falls , since they control the worksite and are in the best position to oversee safety. If they fail to do so and because of that failure someone gets injured or killed, they are held responsible.
“OSHA is not keeping construction sites safe. Underfunding and penalties for violations of its regulations are leading to inspection and enforcement inadequacies, causing unsafe working conditions for workers in one of the most hazardous industries. We need to increase penalties, but we also need to maintain laws like the Scaffold Safety Law that ensure that property owners who choose to cut corners and fail to provide adequate safety protections are held accountable,” said Liz Smith, WNYCOSH Worker Center Project Director.
“Too many construction workers, many of them on non-union construction sites, are risking their lives everyday by being forced to work in unsafe conditions,” said Richard Lipsitz, President of the Western New York Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. “The WNYCOSH report proves the dire need for the Scaffold Safety Law, which gives workers who are injured due to unsafe workplace conditions a day in court and holds contractors accountable.”
“Without adequate resources, OSHA cannot conduct the proper amount of inspections needed to keep contractors responsible and workers safe on the job,” said Greg Stoner, IUPAT District 4. “Our elected officials need to give OSHA the tools it needs to keep us safe – while also protecting laws like the Scaffold Safety Law that offer workers their day in court.”
Construction accounts for two of the ten deadliest occupations in the nation and accounted for 19 percent of US occupational fatalities in 2014. The state relies on OSHA to enforce construction employer safety standards by inspecting construction sites, issuing situations, and assessing penalties for violations of standards. Based on construction site inspections conducted in 2014 by the OSHA Buffalo Area Office, the report reveals that significant violations are prevalent throughout the construction industry in the Buffalo area and that OSHA’s inspection and enforcement activities are seriously inadequate.
Key findings and recommendations from the report are below:
Key Findings
  • Inspectors found a violation in 83 percent of construction inspections.  82 percent of these violations were classified as “serious,” and another four percent were termed “repeat” or “willful.”
  • 98 percent of the 48 inspections of roofing contractors in 2014 cited at least one violation of an OSHA standard intended to prevent height-related injuries.
  • The average penalty totaled only $1,963 for inspections that found at least one violation – too little to effectively deter construction employers from taking safety shortcuts that endanger their workers.
  • In 2014, OSHA conducted only one inspection per weekday on average in a ten-county area that includes both Buffalo and Rochester.
  • Congress must increase maximum allowable OSH
    A penalties beyond the increases enacted that take effect in 2016.
  • OSHA’s budget must be increased to add enough inspectors to ensure that all workplaces are regularly monitored.
  • Given OSHA’s limitations and the number of violations that were gravity-related, other workplace protections like the Scaffold Safety Law must be maintained.
Media Coverage:
The Buffalo News, Matt Glynn, 1.25.16
WBFO NPR, Mike Desmond, 1.26.16
News 4 at 5:30, Al Vaughters, 1.25.16
YNM Buffalo, Alex Haight, 1.25.16
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