Thursday, April 06, 2006

Boston Scaffold Collapse: Voluntary Safety Doesn't Work

The state of Massachusetts relies on a voluntary safety consultation program and rare federal OSHA inspections to ensure scaffold safety. The contractors at the 14-story building in Boston where a scaffold fell Monday chose not to volunteer for a free safety consultation. Two workers died in the incident, along with a driver on the street below.
Under the state's free voluntary program, a company invites state inspectors on site and agrees to fix any hazards that are discovered.

Otherwise, spot inspections are left to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but critics say that can be infrequent.

The Emerson building -- a combined dorm and campus center -- has been under construction for nearly two years, but federal inspectors said Tuesday they had not conducted spot checks before the accident.
Federal OSHA is the only agency that has authority to enforce scaffold safety in Massachusetts. At one time, the state had authority to enforce scaffold safety, but the 1992 Gade Decision by the Supreme Court said the OSH Act pre-empts state laws that regulate safety issues already covered by federal OSHA standards and a 1994 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision confirmed that OSHA had sole jurisdication in enforcing scaffold safety.

Scaffolding had the most violations of any OSHA standard in 2005. But due to OSHA's low staffing levels, however, the AFL-CIO estimated that in 2004 it would have taken 121 years to inspect each workplace in Massachusetts once. In 2004, OSHA had only 34 inspectors for the entire state.