OSHA boss Edwin Foulke was on the hot seat Tuesday at a Congressional hearing, fending off attacks that his agency was impotent in the face of a series of recent construction-related fatalities in New York City and Las Vegas.
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., said, "There's no question that construction is an inherently dangerous job. The question is whether more can be done to prevent accidents and make the industry safer."
"I'm deeply troubled" by the string of recent fatalities, Robert LiMandri, New York City's acting Buildings Commissioner said at the hearing, as reported by the Associated Press, but he added, "It is simply impossible for our inspectors to be at every site at all times."
New York City has only four inspectors on the payroll to inspect more than 200 cranes, 26 of them large tower cranes. About four inspections are conducted each day, according to AP.
LiMandri said federal OSHA needs more manpower to help keep construction sites safe, and urged lawmakers to provide extra money for more federal inspectors.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Foulke said the overall safety record is good and getting better, according to AP.
"If you look at fatality rates in both general industry and construction, they have been continually going down... I think our efforts are working," Foulke told the committee.
Ironworker George Cole testified that he blamed OSHA for the death of his brother-in-law Rusty Billingsley from a fall at a construction site in Las Vegas, according to AP’s account of the hearing.
Foulke said he was unfamiliar with the exact details of Billingsley's death, but said OSHA has expanded crane inspections in New York, and is working on a nationwide crane safety initiative to reinforce regulations and safe practices, the AP report stated.
OSHA issued 24,358 citations last year for violations of fall safety rules at construction sites, leading to more than $33 million in fines, according to Foulke.
OSHA chief Foulke defends construction safety initiatives (6/25)
June 25, 2008