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Friday, September 4, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

OSHA fines Central Library contractors $88K for excavation hazards

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has cited construction contractors working on the new Central Library with fines totaling $88,000.

According to the citations (here and here), on March 4, four employees were installing rebar in the rain in a trench that was 12.5 feet deep and 150 feet long. That trench, according to the citation, was a “cave-in hazard” and had “exposed unknown horizontal and vertical concrete structures that were not supported, exposing the employees to the hazard of being struck by falling objects.”

Hensel Phelps construction company, which is based in Colorado, and its Austin-based subcontractor, CVI Development LLC, were each cited for a willful violation for failing to adequately protect workers at the excavation site for the new library, which is just blocks from City Hall. Under OSHA guidelines, violations are considered willful when “the evidence shows either an intentional violation of the (Occupational Safety and Health) Act or plain indifference to its requirements.”

According to a statement from the U.S. Department of Labor, CVI Development was additionally cited for two serious violations: failure to “provide supports where material was excavated below a structure” and for not removing the workers exposed to that situation even though the employer had identified a hazardous condition.

Diana Petterson with the U.S. Department of Labor told the Austin Monitor that a serious violation occurs “when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.”

City Council Member Greg Casar is a former policy director with the Workers Defense Project. He told the Monitor that it was “very, very rare to see this kind of citation on a city project.”

“Of course, it’s still disappointing to see what happened on a city project,” said Casar. “In my work at Workers Defense, we started our work making sure the city was a model on things like safety and worker wages, and we worked together with the city to make sure the city was a model so we could then ask private employers to try to emulate.”

Even before that work, Casar said, “The city’s practices were much better than what you saw in the private industry.” He pointed out that safety violations, if proved, are a violation of city contracts, and he had been told that the city’s Public Works Department would be checking the site to make sure that everything is, indeed, up to city standards.

Courtney Black, who is a public information specialist with the city of Austin, released a statement to the Monitor about the citations.

“The City of Austin has received notice that Hensel Phelps Construction Company, the Construction Manager at Risk for the New Central Library and Related Improvements project, and their subcontractor, CVI Development LLC, have been cited with four OSHA violations.

“The City of Austin mandates that all contractors provide a safe worksite for every employee and Hensel Phelps has performed exemplary in this effort. This project to date has reached 465,000 man hours without a serious injury. The City is assured that these alleged violations will be reviewed and Hensel Phelps Construction Company and their subcontractor CVI Development LLC, will be able to provide documentation that can substantiate their commitment to safety,” wrote Black.

Casar noted that safety records are included in the process through which the city awards construction contracts, as a way to continue to prioritize worker safety on city-run projects.

“If you have a certain number of safety violations, depending on the type of job, you don’t get a chance to be a city contractor,” said Casar.

Hensel Phelps was fined $70,000 and CVI Development LLC was fined $18,000 for the violations. Both companies have 15 days to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA or contest the citations and penalties.

Image courtesy of the city of Austin

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