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OSHA vows strong stimulus presence

Sean Ryan

An Occupational Safety and Health Administration promise to intensify enforcement on stimulus construction projects is drawing mixed reactions from contractors.

Robert Gonzalez, a board member of the National Association of Minority Contractors and former president of the association’s Wisconsin chapter, said OSHA oversight is good. But, he said, he will keep an eye on the heightened enforcement to see if it becomes too intrusive.

It will hurt small contractors if the enforcement and inspections become overbearing and go beyond what is necessary to ensure safety, Gonzalez said.

“We believe in 100 percent dutiful enforcement,” he said. “We would have to assess what, if any, rule changes might be applied at this point on whether it becomes intrusive or not.”

Gonzalez said he is not worried about OSHA’s announced plan to use American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money to hire 36 additional inspectors in 2009. The agency has not indicated where those additional inspectors would be placed.

The agency’s proposal to collect injury and illness data from 20,000 construction contractors also will not be an issue as long as companies are not forced to release the information, Gonzalez said.

According to an e-mail attributed to Diana Petterson, OSHA public affairs director, the agency will use the information to identify high-risk projects and employers that will be targeted on stimulus projects.

Hilda Solis, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary, on May 7 circulated a memo to federal agencies encouraging federal employees to take two-day OSHA training courses to learn how to identify construction site hazards and to know what safety programs contractors should enforce for their employees. According to the memo, because construction has some of the “more consistently hazardous” work sites, OSHA will focus its resources on the industry to keep tabs on the stimulus projects.

Hap Pigsley, owner of Hap Pigsley Consulting LLC, Oconomowoc, said he is seeing more small contractors registered as disadvantaged or minority-owned business enterprises seeking safety training. Those small companies that historically have not worked on many public projects are seeking subcontracting opportunities on stimulus projects, he said, and want to put more formal safety programs in place.

“They heretofore haven’t thought much about OSHA,” said Pigsley, whose firm consults on safety practices.

Dan Zignego, controller for Waukesha-based Zignego Co. Inc., did not flinch at the prospect of increased OSHA presence because the stretch of Interstate 94 the company will rebuild in Racine County is a very prominent project, he said. He said OSHA agents would be out there even if the project had not received stimulus money.

“I’m sure they’re going to be on it anyways, and that’s fine,” Zignego said. “If that’s their priority, that’s what they should do.”

Zignego said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which is providing company insurance on the I-94 projects, is requiring safety procedures that go beyond OSHA requirements. For example, workers must wear safety glasses at all times when working, he said.

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