Several employers cited for fall hazards

Several employers around the country have been cited for hazards related to fall protection recently, including a Dublin, GA, company, cited after a worker fell from a 911 communications tower.

Raymond Finney, the Atlanta-East area director for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, reports that an employee of CSSI fell to his death from the top of a 600-foot 911 tower near Covington, GA, which he had free-climbed to troubleshoot its strobe lights. The citations carry penalties totaling $18,400.

Building and maintaining communication towers, the work that CSSI performs, is a high-growth industry, Finney notes. According to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 93 fatalities associated with this type of activity were reported from 1992 to 1997.

OSHA’s safety inspection in response to the fatal accident revealed three serious violations:

• A cage or ladder safety device was not used when employees climbed over 20 feet on the tower.

• Employees did not use a safety harness and tie off with a lanyard when free-climbing the tower.

• Employees used tools that were not insulated or designed for live electrical work.

In another case, OSHA cited two Manchester, NH, contractors — Exterior Designs and Airtight — for alleged violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act at a Manchester work site and has proposed combined penalties against the two companies totaling $39,900.

David May, OSHA area director for New Hampshire, says the alleged violations were discovered during an inspection conducted Oct. 7, 1999, at a building renovation project located in Manchester and chiefly concern the lack of adequate fall protection for employees. Exterior Designs was performing stucco work on the outside of the building and had 13 employees working on-site at the time of the inspection; Airtight, the renovation project’s general contractor, had four employees working on-site.

Special emphasis on fall protections

The citations came as the result of an OSHA inspector noticing the hazards by happenstance.

"An OSHA compliance officer who was passing by this job site observed employees working on the second and third floors of this building without any visible fall protection, a situation which exposed these workers to potentially fatal falls," May says. "In line with OSHA’s special emphasis program on fall protection, an inspection was opened immediately and these citations and fines are the result of that inspection."

OSHA’s inspection found employees of both contractors exposed to a variety of fall hazards, in particular, potential falls of up to 50 feet through unguarded exterior wall openings on the second through fifth floors of the building.

Workers for Exterior Designs also were exposed to additional hazards involving the erection and use of scaffolding, including employees erecting scaffolding without fall protection; an employee working in an aerial lift without fall protection; employees accessing the building’s third floor by jumping from the scissors lift through a wall opening; improperly installed scaffolding support posts; employees not adequately trained nor knowledgeable about scaffold erection; and scaffold erection not supervised by a competent person.

Spot inspections used to reduce falls

Noting that 28 New England workers fell to their deaths on the job in 1998, May explained that OSHA is seeking to reduce that number through a New England-wide special emphasis program that combines employer education with active enforcement. One element of that program includes unannounced spot inspections when OSHA inspectors observe employees working more than 10 feet above the next lower level without any apparent fall protection.

"So far this year, New Hampshire has been spared any fatal workplace falls, but employer and worker alike cannot and should not be lulled into a false sense of security because of that," he says. "Fall prevention is not a product of good fortune. Rather, it’s the result of knowing, providing, and utilizing clear, basic and required worker safeguards."

Exterior Designs faces a total of $33,900 in proposed penalties for nine alleged serious violations. The company previously had been cited by OSHA for substantially similar violations in citations issued April 6, 1998, following an inspection at a Portsmouth, NH, work site.

Airtight faces $6,000 in proposed penalties for four alleged serious violation.