OSHA Questioned After Worker Dies in 23-Story Fall

Enforcement did not avoid Dallas tragedy Thursday

The federal government has launched a safety inspection drive to combat the high number of construction deaths in Texas. But the program is drawing fire from representatives of workers and contractors after another tragedy this week.

A Dallas man was killed Thursday when he fell more than 20 stories from a Dallas high-rise construction site. Jose Aguila, 37, was installing metal louvers on the side of the building.
The accident happened around 2 p.m. at St. Ann’s Court between Harry Hines and Harwood near the American Airlines Center. The site was formerly a Catholic school and church.
A scaffold collapsed and the worker’s safety harness somehow failed, according to Lori Brakhage, spokesperson for Austin Commercial, the general contractor.
“Our first concern is for the safety of everyone on site,” Brakhage said.  

The company is cooperating with federal investigators who have arrived on the scene.  Brakhage said the job had not been inspected by federal officials before.
In June, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced an increase in Texas-based inspectors. An OSHA press release said the program is “a concentrated effort to prevent injuries and fatalities at construction sites.”

OSHA is adding unannounced inspections instead of using the prior policy that generally limited site visits to accidents, complaints and scheduled safety meetings.
“And so we see them turning from a coach to a cop,” said Raleigh Roussell, with contractor organization TEXO.

Roussell said TEXO cooperated with OSHA in the past in a variety of safety programs. Now he complains that some inspectors arriving at construction sites are transfers from other OSHA disciplines who do not have construction experience.

“The hazards are much different than those in a plant for example,” he said.
On the other hand, personal injury attorney Mark Werbner, who represents workers, said OSHA is still far too easy on contractors and the penalties for violations are too weak.

“Until OSHA really follows through on their obligations and responsibilities, I’m afraid we’re going to see a lot more deaths and injuries,” Werbner said.

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