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March 14, 2017

Nearly Half of Construction Firms Hired by Maryland Department of General Services Committed OSHA Violations in the Past 10 Years

Findings Show Need for H.B. 1510, Legislation Requiring Taxpayer-Funded Contractors to Properly Plan for the Safety of Their Employees

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nearly half of the major construction contracts awarded by the state of Maryland’s Department of General Services (DGS) have gone to companies that were cited for worker safety violations, according to a study issued today by Public Citizen. The study examines Maryland DGS-awarded contracts over the past five years, while simultaneously examining available contractor safety and health incident reports over a 10-year period from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) online database.

Over the past five years, 46 percent of firms that have been awarded major construction contracts worth $100,000 or more by the Maryland DGS have been cited for worker safety violations by OSHA.

Moreover, 35 percent of all DGS-approved vendors have been cited by OSHA for “serious” violations, meaning that OSHA found a hazard that “could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm.” Three of the firms receiving OSHA violations were cited for violations in association with fatalities that occurred on their work sites.

Two contractors have had employees die - in Maryland and West Virginia - after being crushed by improperly placed barriers. An employee of a third contractor in Maryland was struck and killed by a car. She was struck so hard she was “knocked out of her shoes and socks” after warning signs for passing cars were placed thousands of feet farther from her than required by law.

The Maryland General Assembly is holding a hearing today on a bill that would require construction firms bidding on state projects to provide a safety plan to prevent and control occupational safety and health hazards on their projects. Currently, neither the state of Maryland nor DGS considers a company’s safety record, training programs or site safety plan when awarding construction contracts. According to the proposed legislation, for contracts greater than $100,000, the winning company and its subcontractors would complete a safety questionnaire designed to evaluate the company’s safety and health performance and implement additional measures to protect workers on job sites.

“The fact that more than a third of the construction firms studied have put their employees in danger of death or serious harm should provide more than enough evidence that additional safety measures are needed in Maryland’s procurement process,” said Emily Gardner, worker safety advocate for Public Citizen who testified at today’s hearing. “The epidemic of construction worker injuries and deaths can be halted only if states like Maryland are more vigilant on safety standards before they award these contracts. The legislature should enact this critical worker safety bill, which will benefit construction workers and the state.”

The violations in the analysis occurred throughout all of the contractors’ work over the past 10 years, both public and private. Contractors that have been cited have received nearly $146 million in contracts from DGS alone. They have received $370,297 in OSHA fines over the past decade.

“When you compare how much money these vendors have made off of taxpayer-funded contracts to the amount they have paid in OSHA penalties for their dangerous workplace hazards, it’s clear that Maryland has leverage to encourage strong safety practices that OSHA does not,” said Michael Tanglis, senior researcher for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report. “Maryland should use that leverage to ensure its workers are afforded the safe workplaces they deserve.”

Read the study.

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