Rise in Construction Accidents Prompts Review of Federal Agency, OSHA

May 13, 2008

The leader of a House of Representatives committee said it plans to review a federal agency in charge of ensuring workplace safety this summer after recent construction deaths in Las Vegas and other major cities.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said a workforce protection subcommittee will review whether the safety standards of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are adequate and being followed.

“What’s happening in Las Vegas and other major cities, including New York … there’s this need to move faster” to build quickly and meet construction deadlines, Woolsey said. “It’s taking its toll and it’s killing or injuring our workers — all so some big buildings can get built quickly.”

Ten construction workers have died during the past 17 months while working on Las Vegas Strip projects, drawing the attention of officials with the House Education and Labor Committee, a spokesman said.

“The failure to adequately protect these workers is a direct result of an agency that doesn’t dedicate enough resources to inspect most job sites nor the political will to hold employers accountable when they put workers at risk,” said Aaron Albright, committee spokesman.

“Our committee has seen similar patterns across the country,” he said.

Woolsey and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., want tougher penalties for employers that violate workplace safety rules, and have introduced legislation to increase fines and make it easier for workers to appeal rulings. The bill would also raise criminal penalties, making repeat workplace violations a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Critics of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration say it hasn’t updated its standards and has been slow to regulate employers.

But others say increasing penalties alone won’t work and is a move in the wrong direction.

The bill “does not incorporate measures for preventing accidents and instead focuses on action following a tragedy,” said Kelly Knott of the industry group Associated General contractors.

She said her group focuses on preventing accidents with training grants and awards for employers with good safety records.


On the Net:

OSHA: http://www.osha.gov/

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