In the last week the agency has singled out a pair of businesses in the the Houston area for two whopping fines. In the first case, a temporary worker from a Louisiana company was on a roof in a remediation project run by a contractor from Katy, TX. The worker broke his arms after falling through the roof and dropping about 12 feet. He told OSHA investigators that he had requested and was refused fall protection. According to the OSHA announcement the main Contractor was fined more than $367,000 and the subcontractor was fined another $4,900.
In the second incident, a worker at a job site in Richmond, TX, about 30 miles outside Houston, was trapped when a trench collapsed. According to reports, workers had to dig him out with their bare hands. The announcement from OSHA says the Houston-based company was fined $424,000.
A few notable things abut these two cases. First, the size of the fines. No one died, yet the fines were steep. Clearly, OSHA is warning industry that, even if a fatality does not take place, the high potential for a fatality warrants a high fine.
Second, they were both announced on the same day and the head of the OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, chose to hold a news conference about the infractions, saying ““Texas has more fatalities in the construction industry than any other state” and “It shouldn’t have to take a serious injury for a company to comply with the law.” That is the top guy sending a message – Houston, you have a problem.
Finally, in the case of the fall from heights, one of the violations was that the company did not report the incident for three days. Under OSHA’s new reporting requirements, any in-patient hospitalization must be reported within 24 hours (29 CFR 1904.39(a) (2)). Here’s the interesting part, the new reporting requirement went into effect on January 1, 2015. The incident happened about three weeks later, on January 25, 2015. The fine for that one infraction was $70,000. That is sending a message!