We Can Solve the Construction Safety Crisis

Participants in a June 24 congressional hearing offered all sorts of solutions to the crisis in U.S. construction safety.

The only witness who offered none at all was OSHA’s leader, Edwin Foulke Jr.

Foulke fielded nearly all of the questions when members of the U.S.House Education and Labor Committee and an invited congresswoman, Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., asked their questions. But he wasn’t the sole witness that morning; the other panelists were Mark Ayers, president of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department; George Cole, a 42-year ironworker whose brother-in-law died Oct. 5, 2007, in a fall at the Las Vegas CityCenter project, a mammoth downtown site where six workers have died on the job so far; Mike Kallmeyer, senior VP of construction services for Denier Electric of Columbus, Ohio; and Robert LiMandri, acting building commissioner for New York City. The four said more enforcement, more standards, more training, and more emphasis on construction could curb the crane collapses, falls, and other incidents that are claiming an average of four construction workers’ lives every day. Foulke couldn’t promise any of that and said OSHA’s training, inspection, and penalty numbers demonstrate it is doing a good job.

The specific recommendations surely would make a difference. They won’t come about during this administration, but they’re a good starting point for the next one:

• Finish the Cranes & Derricks negotiated rule, which has been in process for five years, and put it into effect.

• Allow OSHA inspectors to issue stop-work orders when they witness a

• Install “black box” technology and labels on tower crane components so they can be tracked as they are moved from site to site. Update federal guidelines for these cranes.

• Create a Construction Safety & Health Administration, similar to MSHA and similarly separate from OSHA.

• Mandate 10-hour OSHA training for all construction workers nationwide.

• Give NIOSH more money for construction safety research.

• Stop reducing or eliminating penalties issued to employers, and stop giving this financial relief in meetings from which victims’ representatives are excluded. See whether federal OSHA can influence state plans to also use this tougher approach.

• Address Hispanic construction workers’ safety more forcefully.

• Solve the problem of large-scale misclassification of construction workers as independent contractors. (Their injuries and deaths don’t show up in BLS totals.)

This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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