OSHA responds to fall-protection concerns of Houston resident

HOUSTON – The new Bella Palazzo apartments rise four stories above Westheimer Road, not far from Wayne Morris’ house.

Morris is a retired safety inspector with 30 years of experience.

He says he became worried about workers on the project when he saw they were working on the top of the building without safety harnesses or other protection from falls.

“It’s just a blatant disregard of regulations, rules and regulations,” Morris said. “What really bothers me is, what if these people don’t have workman’s compensation, and if they get hurt, who cares?”

It’s a common problem.

Fall protection tops the list of the 10 most common violations cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Morris called OSHA to complain, but didn’t like the answer he got.

“They said, well by time we get out there it'll probably be all taken care of, and we don’t have the manpower to work on every complaint we receive,” he said.

Channel 2 News made the same call Monday to OSHA’s 800 number, and got a slightly different answer.

The OSHA representative at the other end of the line said the workers might not be required to have fall protection depending on how close they were working to the edge of the roof.

OSHA standard 1926.501(b)(1) states:

“Each employee on a walking/working surface with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.”

The representative said if an inspector wasn’t in the area Monday, one would be sent to check the site on Tuesday.

We observed employees on the building’s roof Monday working without safety harnesses or fall protection. Other workers did appear to be equipped with safety belts that were not anchored to the building.

The project’s superintendent, Gary Barnes with Parkcrest Builders, didn’t wait for OSHA to respond after we asked him about that and Morris’ complaint.

“I don’t know the situation,” Barnes said. “If they was on top of the roof, hanging over the roof or something like that, and if they don’t, I’m going to go find out why now.”

The workers came off the building shortly afterward and didn’t appear to go back up for the rest of the day.

Barnes said the company has a safety program that includes regular safety inspections.

OSHA Regional Director of Public Affairs Juan Rodriguez responded to our inquiry by email, saying in part:

“I don’t have details on this particular call. I can assure you that our OSHA staff would not tell callers that we do not have enough staff to investigate every complaint. OSHA looks into every complaint and takes appropriate action.”