In the wake of the seven-story scaffolding accident that occurred last month outside of an apartment building in Houston, many are questioning whether worker watchdog OSHA is really able to keep workers safe.
Currently, OSHA investigators do not typically visit a worksite on their own - they usually arrive only after an accident has already occurred.
Abc13 conducted a study of OSHA after the scaffolding accident that revealed that OSHA simply does not have the manpower or resources necessary to do what it has been charged to do. The Houston South OSHA office only has 24 inspectors available to cover 26 counties in the Houston area. Statewide, there is only one inspector for every 95,000 workers. The problem is not just confined to Texas - nationally, 150 inspectors have been laid off due to budget cuts, and only 40 percent of all workplace injuries are ever investigated. According to Attorney Lance Walters adds, "there are over 4000 deaths a year in Texas. They have other cases they have to worry about. When they're limited in manpower and resources there's only so much they can do."
Texas currently leads the nation in workplace fatalities, with more than 520 last year alone, and yet OSHA is not able to hold companies accountable when serious accidents occur, nor are they doing enough to enforce policies to prevent accidents from happening in the first place.
And as accident continue to happen, companies aren't paying much in the way of fines when safety violations lead to worker injuries or deaths. For example, in the 2009 case of a worker who was killed in a fire at Valero's Texas City refinery, the company was fines only $4,500. Another case involving a Houston trash collector who died of heat stroke resulted in a fine of only $7,000. "It's a laughable amount," says Attorney Sean Tracey of Tracey & Fox. "We don't change behavior by fining people insignificant amounts of money."
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