The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has taken the rare step of obtaining a federal court order to ensure that a New Jersey general contractor keeps a construction site safe and pays more than $160,000 in outstanding fines.
The U.S. District Court consent order and injunction require Sousa Contractors Inc. of Sayreville, NJ, to provide fall protection and proper scaffolding, hire a safety consultant, and comply with other OSHA regulations at a work site in West Windsor Township, NJ.
|Crews were repeatedly seen working at the edges of roofs without any fall protection, according to OSHA.|
The order, filed Aug. 29, bars the contractor “from failing or refusing to take the steps necessary to avoid, correct or remove a condition or practice of imminent danger.”
OSHA seeks such orders only “very rarely--only in extreme cases where the employer is recalcitrant,” an agency spokeswoman said Friday (Sept. 2).
Workers in ‘Imminent Danger’
In this case, OSHA sought the court order after inspectors repeatedly observed workers “placed in imminent danger” at a work site—even after the company was cited in June for eight violations at the same site and fined $107,900.
In the June citations, which stemmed from a December 2010 inspection, OSHA found workers on a 500-unit townhouse development installing roof trusses 35 feet above ground without any fall protection—a willful violation that carried a $70,000 fine. Other violations included improper use of ladders, exposure to protruding nails, lumber and other debris; and lack of safety glasses.
OSHA inspectors personally told the site foreman to remove the workers from the edge of the roof, but later inspections found the practice recurring, the OSHA spokeswoman said. Follow-up inspections since then have found continued dangerous practices, she said.
“Given Sousa’s history on this worksite, OSHA believed that the employees’ exposure to the imminent danger was capable of repetition - e.g. on the next roof,” the spokeswoman wrote in an email. “Because Sousa did not immediately abate the imminent danger, did not keep employees safe until it was abated, and was not likely to change its work practices, we sought an injunction.”
Training, Notifications Ordered
Sousa provides nonunion construction crews for framing, roofing and masonry work, according to OSHA. The company could not be reached Friday (Sept. 2) for comment.
The court order sets a schedule for Sousa owner and president Ana Amorim to pay fines from three prior inspections: the one in June and two prior ones that were appealed and have been upheld by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Furthermore, for two years after completing the current project, Sousa must notify the OSHA area office about every project it undertakes that will last more than one week.
The court order also requires that Sousa:
• Hire an “independent safety consultant with substantial experience” to conduct twice-weekly surprise safety inspections for a year—and twice-monthly inspections after that--and file written reports after each inspection for OSHA’s review;
• Have a foreman, manager or consultant who has completed OSHA’s 30-hour construction safety course supervise work on all of the company’s work sites; and
• Provide OSHA’s 10-hour construction safety course to all employees before Oct. 1.
“OSHA sought this order and injunction to protect the employees of Sousa Contractors from potentially deadly fall hazards,” said Paula Dixon-Roderick, director of OSHA’s Marlton Area Office. "Falls pose a major threat to construction workers and must be taken seriously by employers."
Dixon-Roderick said the citations issued in June reflected “a careless approach to workplace safety, leaving workers at risk of serious injury and possible death. It’s vital that Sousa Contractors correct these hazards to protect its workers.”