Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sopranos As Workplace Safety Hazards

The New York Daily News has run a 3-part series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, editorial) about Mafia domination of the construction business in the New York area and the havoc it wreaks on traffic, building quality, budgets and government.

The whole exposé makes for fascinating reading right out a real-life Sopranos episode, but of particular interest to readers of Confined Space is Part 3, Blood on their hands! which covers the effect of Mafia influence on workplace safety.
By late 2001, the city had already received numerous complaints about unsafe conditions from both workers and neighbors at a job site at the Parkwest Apartments at 323 W. 96th St.

One worker told investigators he'd left after a week because he felt "that the safety issues on the job exposed him to injury," court records state.

At 7:30 a.m. the Tuesday after Thanksgiving 2001, a 7,000-pound slab of precast concrete collapsed on top of 60-year-old carpenter Selma Erey as she prepared plywood safety covers at her workbench.

"She has a permanently disabling, very serious fracture to her foot, a compression fracture to her spine, and traumatic brain injury," said her attorney, Paul Hofmann. "She could have been killed."

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration shut down the job, and the city slapped the job's general contractor with proposed fines of $4,150.

A union shop steward found pervasive safety issues, including uncovered holes and the absence of safety cables, and registered his complaints. An OSHA inspector found bricks being hoisted over the heads of workers and the absence of safety netting, records show.

That's when the mob stepped in, investigators say.

Richard Gotti - a brother of the late mob boss John Gotti - was a no-show worker for Silo Construction, a subcontractor at the site, according to a report by Walter Mack, an investigator appointed by a judge to monitor the carpenter's union.

In sworn testimony, District Council Carpenters shop steward Peter O'Keefe told Mack that Gotti approached him at the site in early 2002 and warned him to stop reporting safety problems to the union.

Raising his voice and jabbing a finger into O'Keefe's chest, according to O'Keefe, Gotti told him that if he made any more reports, it would be O'Keefe who'd be having safety problems.

Records show that O'Keefe, who told investigators he "did not sleep well for a few nights," stopped complaining.
The article also suggests that Mafia pressure may influence OSHA's fines:
On a windy May morning in 2000, Antonio Pedro, 41, a nonunion Yonkers employee, was blown off a catwalk on the Manhattan Bridge and plunged to his death in the East River.

Yonkers Contracting was cited for allowing Pedro to work without a harness and for not training him properly.

OSHA inspectors proposed fines totalling $12,500 for three serious violations, but settled for only $1,500.
Mafia influence? Maybe, but from my experience, OSHA is perfectly able to impose insignificant citations all by itself.