The Strange Case Of The OSHA Inspections

We were involved in a very high profile construction project in Austin, the north extension of Loop One. This was during a time span between 2005-2007. We were a subcontractor relocating various water and wastewater lines to allow for the highway expansion.

All eyes were on us, as we were working for a consortium comprised of two large highway contractors, with oversight by TxDot, The Tollway Authority and City of Austin. Our work is always under scrutiny, due to the dangers involved in digging deep trenches, but this project had many extremely difficult circumstances with traffic congestion being one of the main ones.

The construction joint venture had several safety officers on the project that monitored our work. One day a guy showed up in our office wanting a job. He said that driving by our job every day he could tell we needed an on-staff safety consultant. The guy had a good resume but something seemed flaky about him. Since we were already knee deep in safety people I declined to hire this guy.

A few days later we had a surprise OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) Inspection. There is a certain protocol that is used when OSHA visits a jobsite, which includes them coming to the onsite office and announcing themselves, then visiting the site. This wasn’t done. The guy rolled up to the job and flashed a badge and started looking around. There are circumstances that may warrant extreme measures perhaps, like an OSHA Inspector seeing a life threatening situation and him feeling the need to mitigate the immediate danger. But this wasn’t the case here, he merely took pictures and got back in his car and left.

The same thing happened on a couple of other days. Then the Safety Consultant reappeared at out jobsite office. He told me he had heard we had been getting visits from OSHA. I kind of blew the guy off but then it occurred to me how strange it was that we kept getting these visits and this Safety Consultant knew we were getting them. I had a business card the OSHA Inspector had left and seeing the name it struct me that I’d seen his name before. The Safety Consultant’s resume listed this same person as a personal reference.

I told my guys in the field to let me know if OSHA reappeared. The next day the guy showed up with camera in hand. I had one of my superintendents get his camera and start shooting pictures of the picture taker. The next thing I know the OSHA guy is running up the hill with my guy in pursuit, into an apartment complex where the he jumped in a car and sped off.

Not being sure where to go with this I decided to do nothing, figuring whatever scam was being perpetrated, it would fix itself. A few days later I received a letter in the mail from OSHA which was a citation containing multiple violations.

I hired an attorney that specializes in Construction Safety cases to fight these charges. It turned out that the OSHA Inspector was a Laboratory Hygienist Inspector that normally went to high tech plants, like AMD or Motorola to check on safety issues. The Austin Director of OSHA maintained that he had the authority to check construction sites if he saw an imminent danger, therefore was within his the right to stop and do an inspection on our project. Our project was on his way to and from work. “He was just being a diligent employee, even if he didn’t follow protocol“. The Director said he hadn’t realized there was an office since it was a construction site and other such nonsense as that. My attorney and their attorneys decided that it would be best to just drop everything and call it a day.

When dealing with the government, that’s pretty much a win for a private citizen. They had more money to hire lawyers than I did, I think is the way that goes.

I was worried the Safety Consultant may continue on his quest to harass me and my company so we filed a lawsuit against him, naming everything we could think of to throw in it. This forced him to never step foot on one of our projects again while it was making its way slowly through the courts.

The moral to this story: I may not have had enough money to fight the US Government, but I did have enough to cause misery to an aged out of work Safety Consultant, that had at one time been an employee of OSHA.

After leaving everything in place and filing continuations to let it hang over that fools head for about a decade, I finally dropped the suit a few years ago. I still monitor his activity through social media. I no longer feel he is a threat to me or himself.

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