What can I do about observed unsafe work conditions?
March 25, 2012 7:11 PM   Subscribe

How can I report what I think are unsafe work conditions at a construction site near my house? Who should I be talking to, the developer? OSHA?

There is a residential construction area where I've seen workers working in what I would consider very unsafe conditions - for example, workers working on the second floor (10-12 ft up) while balancing on what appears to be 2x6 boards strung between very flimsy supports without any fall protection.

I don't know how OSHA requirements vary depending on the type of workplace, but I do know the OSHA reqs we follow at my workplace would not allow this.

I'm concerned for these workers, but don't know who to talk to. I'm pretty sure that if I call the developer, they will just laugh in my face (or politely listen and then completely ignore it). OSHA has an online report form, but it appears that if you aren't an actual employee or employee representative, it may not get much attention.

Additional complication is that the chances that all these guys are undocumented is very high. The last thing I want to do is get them in some sort of trouble.

(To be clear - this is not intended in any way to be a criticism of the workers themselves. I want their employers to provide them with the tools and training they need to do their jobs safely.)
posted by pallas14 to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you in a city with a 311 number? If not I'd report it to the city/state department of labor.
posted by brujita at 7:25 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

In California, OSHA (or Cal-OSHA) doesn't really get involved for construction unless the structure is over 36 feet tall, or there are excavations deeper than 5 feet.
posted by LionIndex at 7:32 PM on March 25, 2012

Actually, it's unlikely that the developer would laugh in your face. If you're seeing it -- other people could be seeing it and it's unlikely that the impetus to work in an unsafe manner is coming from the developer.

If you have a state OSHA office, you could call and ask. Even if they don't have jurisdiction or are able to get directly involved, I'm sure that they could point you in the right direction.
posted by amanda at 7:50 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Call the developer. If they do take your concern seriously, that's the quickest path to action. If they ignore you, you're only out the time and effort of that phone call.

Also report it to the government. Unfortunately I don't know whether that's OSHA or a local department of labor, but I absolutely think that it would be wise to report to the applicable agencies and the developer.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:06 PM on March 25, 2012

If you're in the US, definitely call or email OSHA. Let them make the call on whether or not to get involved. You could save a life (or at least a terrible injury).
posted by rdn at 8:33 PM on March 25, 2012


Most of these answers are bullshit. Sorry. Full stop.

For unsafe construction issues you call your local government, specifically your local Building Dept or Planning Commission - but just getting a reference phone number from City Hall is a great place to start.

Please report this issue. The "undocumented" part is why I've written a response to this AskMe.

Thank you for following through.

I hate to see people in danger for profit. That is all.
posted by jbenben at 9:37 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

For unsafe construction issues you call your local government, specifically your local Building Dept or Planning Commission

You know, the developers themselves are going to be calling the Building Department many, many times to have them come out to perform inspections. Also, at least in my town and most places I've worked, the Planning Department has nothing to do with building or construction safety.
posted by LionIndex at 11:53 PM on March 25, 2012

I would start by calling your local building dept. You want code enforcement, not the planning division.

I work in construction. I would be VERY surprised if code enforcement in your town was not interested in this information. For two reasons - 1. towns are financially strapped, and money from fines helps. 2. towns are laying off people in the building depts. Code enforcement officers have an incentive to bust people, to show that there work is important, hence do not fire me.

Every building department has a code enforcement officer.
posted by Flood at 5:01 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I work in construction too. The building/planning department here doesn't handle this sort of thing, but they could definitely direct you to the right place to report this Where I live, this sort of thing is legislated by the provincial OH&S act. Your experience will obviously be different depending on where you live.

Yes, report this. What you are witnessing is an employer's total disregard for the safety of their employees. All of our employees are trained in working at heights and certified to use a fall arrest system. It's the law here as of the beginning of this year. Ten feet might not sound like a lot, but it's enough to end your working days and ensure years of misery to come. Yeah, screw those people. Our small company has spent thousands of dollars on making safety a way of life in the workplace and following all the rules and guys like this will put people's lives at stake to save a few bucks. If they're "saving" in that way, lord knows where else they're cutting corners.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:10 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whatever else you do, reporting to the developer is a good idea. That way, they can't claim ignorance if something bad happens later.
posted by yarly at 6:27 AM on March 26, 2012

Every building department has a code enforcement officer.

Right, but at least in my area, that guy would have been to the jobsite at least twice already if they're in the middle of framing, and like I said previously, 10-12 feet is not an OSHA issue on a California construction site. If this is a residential "development" and they're fast-tracking a bunch of separate houses through construction, they could possibly have an inspector on site every day. They will certainly need to have an inspector come out a couple more times before they're done.

I get that there's a safety issue, but my guess is that whatever governmental agency is responsible for checking it isn't concerned. It wouldn't hurt to call, and you'll want to call whatever division performs construction inspections, but don't necessarily expect that anything will change.

Also, in my area, there's a difference between this kind of thing and the division called "neighborhood code compliance", which deals with nuisances like abandoned properties and completed illegal construction and noise and stuff, so make sure whom you're calling. The general building department info line can probably point you in the right direction.
posted by LionIndex at 6:28 PM on March 26, 2012

Have you looked around on the fence of the site for a sign? In my area, I have noticed new signage on construction sites that has contact information for various reasons. This is not just the developers ad type of sign, but it looks like a legal document in big letters with some phone numbers on it.
posted by CathyG at 7:58 PM on March 26, 2012

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