ME Roofer Gets OSHA Fall Protection Citations

Originally published by: The Sun JournalSeptember 6, 2011

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A Lewiston roofing company faces nearly a quarter-million dollars in fines for failing to protect its workers from falls and other safety violations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed fines totalling $243,360 after an inspection in which they uncovered "egregious willful, serious and repeat violations for a lack of fall protection and other hazards."

In a news release, OSHA investigators say the 30-year-old roofing company has a long history of safety violations and that since October, has failed to provide workers' compensation coverage.

But company owner Stephen Lessard insisted that it's a matter of selective enforcement: His company does as much as or more than competing businesses to protect its workers, he said Friday. The difference, he said, is that OSHA has been targeting Lessard Brothers with particular zeal.

As far as safety goes, Lessard said, "I've actually got a better-than-average company."

In the OSHA report, Lessard Brothers is accused of exposing four of its workers to potentially life-threatening falls of 23 feet while they were working on a steep-pitched roof on Elm street in Lewiston late last year. OSHA proposed fines of $224,000 for those violations.

The company was also cited for failing to train workers on electrical hazards and fall protection, which resulted in another $10,560 in proposed fines. Another $8,800 in fines was proposed for a repeat violation, the lack of hard-hat protection.

According to Lessard, his workers are in compliance while on the job. They wear safety harnesses and other equipment as required. He has fired workers, he said, for failing to comply with those rules.

The problem, Lessard said, is that if a worker removes a piece of equipment, even for a matter of seconds, an OSHA inspector is there to record it.

"As soon as somebody screws up and disconnects, they're right there snapping pictures," Lessard said. "At this point, it's selective enforcement."

His main complaint, Lessard said Friday, is that he believes his workers — he has a six-man crew — comply with safety regulations more than those from other local construction companies. But, Lessard said, OSHA isn't watching those companies as closely as his.

"You can go on any job site," Lessard said, "and you'll find people in violation."

Ted Fitzgerald, deputy regional director of the Department of Labor's Office of Public Affairs, said Friday afternoon that in Maine, OSHA has launched 25 inspections involving contracting companies similar to Lessard Brothers since December.

"This is not the only contractor of this type to be inspected," Fitzgerald said.

He said a pair of OSHA officials were driving past Lessard Brothers' job site on Elm Street late last year when they noticed open violations. That's when the inspection got under way, Fitzgerald said.

OSHA does not require that a death or injury be reported before it opens an investigation.

"This employer ignored the law and put workers' lives at risk," said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. "OSHA's common-sense regulations save lives. Employers who ignore these regulations and endanger their employees will face the consequences."

In the OSHA press release, particular emphasis was placed on the alleged failure of Lessard Brothers to protect its employees against falls.

"Falls are the No. 1 killer in construction work," said Martha Kent, OSHA's New England regional administrator. "Employees in situations such as this are just one slip, trip or misstep away from a fatal or disabling fall. Responsible employers must ensure that effective fall protection measures are in place and in use every day on every job site."

The action against the company qualifies Lessard Brothers Construction for OSHA's Severe Violators Enforcement Program, according to the news release, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.

The company has 15 days to contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Lessard said Friday that he cannot afford the fines. He also cannot afford an attorney to help him appeal OSHA's allegations, he said.

"We're just a small company trying to survive."