Report Documents Safety Problems on PLA Projects

0 April 13, 2011  Federal Construction, State & Local Construction

As part of our ongoing series publishing the truth about government-mandated projects labor agreements (PLAs), here is a chapter documenting Safety Problems on PLA Projects from Maury Baskin’s Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreements: The Public Record of Poor Performance (2011 Edition).

VI. Safety Problems on PLA Projects

The public record also does not support claims of increased safety on construction sites as a result of PLAs. To the contrary, during the last several years, union-only construction projects have been cited numerous times for serious safety violations, many of which caused fatalities and serious injuries to workers and bystanders.

On the Boston Harbor PLA clean-up project, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed $410,900 in fines against four contractors in connection with the fatalities of two workers overcome by insufficient oxygen.[1] OSHA already had proposed more than $100,000 in penalties against subcontractors on the project for violations of “safety standards relative to tunneling, cranes, suspended work platforms, electrical grounding and guarding of an open shaft pit.”[2] Harbor tunnel work ceased because of an electrical fire; workers were evacuated because of fumes; and an engineer was crushed to death in an accident. Two other fatalities occurred on the project.

In July 1995, 200 Boston Harbor tunnel workers were sickened from a stench in the wastewater tunnel to Deer Island; other incidents indicated a lack of sufficiently diligent management safety practices.[3] In September 1998, OSHA fined a unionized contractor $158,500 for safety violations on Boston’s Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.[4] The violations were for exposing employees to various hazards.  The fine also included $12,500 for it being a second violation.[5]

Other safety problems plagued the Central Artery Project.  The state auditor charged ‘that faulty design work on the cross-harbor portion…jeopardizes workers and increased costs by more than $1 million…Inadequate controls resulted in a serious leak in the sunken tube tunnel, threatening worker safety.’[6] In April 2001, OSHA proposed $69,000 in fines against a Big Dig contractor for alleged serious health and safety violations.[7]

Thirty-two safety violations occurred on New York state’s PLA-governed Tappan Zee Bridge project in 1998.[8] Citations were issued for failing to comply with fall protection standards, safety training programs and exposure to lead.  These safety violations led to $22,530 in penalties.

In August 1999, the PLA-mandated construction of the new Miller Park baseball stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers came to a halt when a crane collapsed onto the stadium, killing three workers and injuring three others.[9]

The Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, covered by a government-mandated PLA, was fined a record $330,000 by the Department of Energy for nuclear safety violations under the Price-Anderson Act.[10] This was the largest penalty issued in the history of the Price-Anderson Enforcement Program.  The construction managers failed to see to it that contractors building the site followed safety procedures.  They allegedly failed to meet quality assurance requirements in areas such as work process controls, subcontractor qualifications, subcontractor oversight and project design.[11]

The PLA-constructed Iowa Events Center also suffered nearly 50 construction accidents during the first six months of construction, including four linked directly to substance abuse by unionized construction workers. One construction worker was killed after being struck by a steel beam. Ironworkers had been working late shifts to catch up due to previous delays on the project.[12] In another incident, a large crane nearly fell several stories after being compromised by a heavy load. The crane operator was fired for refusing to take a drug test.[13]

In 2010, a private audit found violations by 55 contractors working on a $150 million high school under a PLA mandated by the Los Angeles Unified School District. The violations included inadequate supervision of workers and performing work under expired or suspended licenses.[14]

NOTE: Click the appropriate chapter from the report:

  1. Introduction
  2. Increased Costs on PLA Projects
  3. Reduced Competition on PLA Projects
  4. Construction Delays on PLA Projects
  5. Construction Defects on PLA Projects

On Thursday we will post the chapter, PLA Problems Involving Minorities and Women.

Check out this safety related blog entry, Evidence That Project Labor Agreements Do Not Guarantee a Safer Workplace, for more examples of unsafe PLA projects.

Citations after the jump.

[1] OSHA Cites Boston Harbor Contractors, 13 Daily Labor Report (BNA) A-2 (Jan. 20, 2000).

[2] “Boston Harbor”-Type Project Labor Agreements in Construction: Nature, Rationales, and Legal Challenges, 19 J. Lab. Res., Winter 1998, at 1, 14.

[3] Id.

[4] Modern Hit With Heavy Fine, ENR, Sept. 21, 1998, at 9.

[5] Id.

[6]Boston Harbor”-Type Project Labor Agreements in Construction: Nature, Rationales, and Legal Challenges, 19 J. Lab. Res., Winter 1998, at 1, 14.

[7] OSHA Proposed $69,000 in Fines Against Big Dig Contractor, OSHA Regional News Release (April 2, 2001).

[8] Cover Story: Safety, ENR, June 21, 1999, at 30-31.

[9] Crane Accident Kills Three at Unfinished Miller Park, Washington Times, July 15, 1999.

[10] Fluor Unit Gets Record Fine Over Nuclear Waste Safety, ENR, June 7, 1999, at 9.

[11] DOE Fines Hanford Contractor $330,000; Secretary Issues First Compliance Order, CLR Vol. 45, No. 2231, June 2, 1999, at 370.

[12] Des Moines Register, Sept. 21, 2004.

[13] County Grapples With Substance Abuse On Self-Insured Construction Project, Workplace Substance Abuse Advisor, Nov. 26, 2003.

[14] Failing Grade for PLA School Job?, Los Angeles Business Journal, Nov. 1, 2010, available at

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