Workzone: Agency building safety at construction sites

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Last month, seven construction workers in the Pittsburgh area were injured in two accidents involving scaffolding that collapsed.

The accidents occurred at an East Deer moving company and at a hotel construction site in East Liberty. They are being investigated by the Pittsburgh office of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

They occurred as OSHA, which is charged with regulating workplace safety, was in the middle of a big push to promote safety in the construction industry. The effort was organized by the agency’s Philadelphia regional office, which covers Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia. The campaign includes teaching construction workers how to perform their jobs safely and inspecting construction sites.

Falls are the No. 1 cause of construction-related incidents in the Pittsburgh area, according to David Rhodes, assistant area director in OSHA’s Pittsburgh office, which covers Allegheny and 12 other counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Of the 80 inspections following fatal construction accidents in the region over the last 10 years, 42 involved falls, Mr. Rhodes said. Another 18 were caused when moving equipment, vehicles or material struck the victim, he said.

Mr. Rhodes said the agency is investigating two construction-related fatalities this year.

Three construction workers died last year, he said. Two workers were electrocuted, and the third died when the lift he was using to inspect bridge work pinned him between the lift and a bridge girder.

Protecting construction workers whose jobs take them above ground level is a focus. Sites where fall protection equipment, scaffolding and ladders were not being used properly generated the most construction industry violations cited by OSHA’‍s Pittsburgh inspectors in the most recent fiscal year, Mr. Rhodes said. They were followed by problems with trenches and the failure to protect workers from respiratory hazards, he said.

Mr. Rhodes said workers at accident scenes sometimes tell OSHA inspectors they knew they were supposed to take precautions but that they were in a hurry to complete the job. He got a similar response recently when visiting the site of a trench collapse.

One of the things OSHA is emphasizing is making sure workers are familiar with harnesses that prevent falls.

“If people have not used fall protection equipment in the past, they may not know how to wear it correctly or inspect it,” Mr. Rhodes said.

He said one good thing about the sessions was that they provided an opportunity for workers to provide feedback to the companies that make the equipment about what improvements could be made.

OSHA and industry groups provided safety training for more than 6,000 workers during the first week in June, he said. The agency’‍s industry partners include P.J. Dick, the Master Builders Association, the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania, and the Pittsburgh Region Building and Construction Trades Council.

The emphasis was on getting construction companies to plan how to do the job safely, providing workers with the proper equipment and training them how to use it,“ Mr. Rhodes said.

Len Boselovic: 412-263-1941 or

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