OSHA Cracking Down on Fall Protection in Houston

Originally published by: Examiner.comMay 5, 2012

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Federal jobsite inspectors are paying visits to home construction sites throughout the Houston area, handing out massive fines to workers found without the required protection from falls.

"Some of these guys work for $100 a day, so it's an awful lot of money," said one building supervisor whose site was just hit with $9,000 worth of fines.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is showing up with cameras and violation-books more and more, according to workers who asked that their names not be published.

One homebuilder's project in the brand new Summerwood subdivision off West Lake Houston Parkway and Beltway 8 has gotten several recent visits, according to workers.

"Each ticket is $3,000, an amazing amount of money for these guys," said the building supervisor at that subdivision.

He said OSHA inspectors told him the new initiative is targeting homebuilders nationwide because 150 recent deaths have been tied to workers falling from rooftops or construction sites where they're installing siding on 2-story homes nationwide.

When inspectors pull up to these new subdivisions in the Houston area, they're looking for any worker whose feet are more than 6-feet off the ground.

If they're on a ladder or scaffolding, or they're on a rooftop putting up shingles, they're being called down and cited on the spot if they don't have fall-protection gear.

The required gear depends on the height, but it includes safety-harnesses or barriers around the edges of certain surfaces to catch a worker if they trip.

OSHA has been getting more and more publicity in other cities for this crackdown, issuing news releases when larger fines are levied against builders for these infractions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 751 construction workers died on the job in 2010, with 35% of those being workers who fell.

OSHA is posting the rules and regulations online for any builders who want to avoid trouble when inspectors arrive at their jobsite.

Some Houston homebuilders say OSHA inspectors are sometimes showing up more than once at a single jobsite between the time the ground is broken and the home is finished.

It's the element of surprise, especially for workers who think they won't get a visit from OSHA because they already got one.

Builders say OSHA is hitting 'commercial home builders' in the new subdivisions, where there may be 10 or 12 job sites working on any given day.   But they're also hitting regular individual jobsites where only one home may be under construction, according to builders who have been noticing the increased attention.

One general contractor, who works for a major new homebuilder in northeast Houston, said individual workers are being cited on most of the inspections.  However, he shrugged and said that if he's caught on a jobsite where workers are not protected, he knows a much larger fine is likely headed for the homebuilding company that employs him.

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