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Capstone contractors fined over safety rules.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

Contractors working on the massive Capstone student apartment complex in downtown Eugene have again run afoul of workplace safety rules, this time racking up more than $12,000 in proposed fines.

The state agency in charge of occupational safety, Oregon OSHA, imposed the penalties in June and July on three firms for unsafe working conditions, many related to potential fall hazards for employees. The agency found that the firms had unqualified workers sending signals to a construction crane operator; employees using safety harnesses with defective hooks or clasps; not ensured that employees who were working above the ground had fall-hazard training; not known whether safety lines were installed according to an approved design; and other violations.

The penalties, most of which have yet to be paid, were assessed against Associated Cement of West, Texas; Reinforcing Ready of San Marcos, Calif.; and Timber Tech Framing of Sandy.

In a separate matter, Oregon OSHA has concluded that the injury of an Associated Cement worker at the job site in June was caused when the worker slipped on a wet surface. The agency did not find fault with Associated Cement.

The state agency issued the latest fines for workplace safety violations after receiving anonymous complaints and visiting the job site on different days in June.

"The fact that there were some serious and repeat violations shows that there were some issues," said Oregon OSHA spokesperson Melanie Mesaros.

The fines - which the companies can contest - are the latest regulatory stumble for contractors working at the towering development site, where scores of construction workers are racing to complete the first apartments for student tenants by a Sept. 25 deadline.

When finished in about a year, the $80 million to $90 million complex with five-story apartment buildings will have 375 living units for about 1,200 students, plus two parking garages with spaces for hundreds of cars, on the blocks bounded by 11th and 13th avenues and Charnelton and Willamette streets.

The complex is being developed by Capstone Collegiate Communities of Birmingham, Ala. Construction Enterprises Inc. of Franklin, Tenn., is the general contractor.

Pat Walsh, a Eugene-based spokesman for Capstone and CEI, said "safety is the number one priority" for both firms.

"CEI and Capstone take the subcontractors' OSHA violations seriously," he said. "CEI has ensured that the subcontractors have resolved the safety issues."

Through its most recent penalties, Oregon OSHA hit Associated Cement the hardest, citing the firm for four violations that the agency deemed serious with total penalties of $7,050.

One of the citations said the firm failed to provide protection to keep workers from potential falls ranging from about 13 feet to 45 feet.

Oregon OSHA fined Reinforcing Ready a total of $3,820 for six serious violations, including having an ill-fitting safety harness on one employee.

Timber Tech Framing was fined a total of $1,260 in two citations, one of which said employees working on an elevated surface lacked required fall-prevention equipment.

Timber Tech Framing is appealing the fines.

Timber Tech owner Ian Walsh said an employee caused a violation by disregarding the company's instructions to wear safety equipment in the elevated area. The employee was fired, Walsh said, and the firm should not have to pay the fine.

"There are just so many things going on that can take place at a job site of that nature," he said. "Just the sheer size and the rate of construction. There are literally hundreds of guys on that job site and each time one guy disregards the safety rules that are put in place, it just opens up the job site to another violation."

Executives with JD Reinforcing and Associated Concrete did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment.

Todd Glenz, principal owner of Eugene-based McKenzie Commercial, which is not working on the Capstone project, said many contractors do all they can to avoid penalties by Oregon OSHA for unsafe working conditions.

"If you are an Oregon contractor and you have lots of Oregon violations, you can get put on a list so you get more visits" by state inspectors, he said.

More importantly, Glenz said, repeated violations are detrimental to a firm's reputation.

Developers and property owners looking to hire contractors often will ask whether they were fined by Oregon OSHA, he said.

"People are looking at more than just the bottom line dollar," Glenz said. "A lot of owners are looking at the safety record of contractors. And they should be."

Oregon OSHA investigated the accident on June 20 that sent an Associated Cement worker to the hospital with a head injury.

The 23-year-old-man from Seven Points, Texas, was working on the sixth floor of the parking garage, wearing a retractable "yo-yo" safety harness tied to a horizontal lifeline, according to the Oregon OSHA investigative report.

State rules require workers to wear fall-protection equipment if they are 10 or more feet above a lower surface, said Mesaros, the spokesperson for Oregon OSHA.

The employee was standing on a surface slightly less than 10 feet above the lower level so he wasn't required to wear fall-protection equipment. However, the harness and lifeline may have prevented more serious injuries to the man.

It had rained that day and the surface was wet, the report said. The man slipped and fell a distance of 9 feet 7 inches, the Oregon OSHA report said. During the fall, he struck a floor edge, concrete forms and support framing before the retractable safety line locked, suspending him in his harness with his hands and feet touching the lower floor, according to the report.

The man's head did not strike the floor, but he was taken to PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield with a concussion, the report said.

The OSHA investigation did not find any safety rule violations so no citations or penalties were issued, Mesaros said.

The most recent fines at the Capstone development site follow earlier penalties levied against construction firms working on the project, including CEI, the general contractor.

In April, Oregon OSHA imposed $960 in fines on CEI for unsafe conditions.

In May, city of Eugene officials fined CEI $2,980 for not complying with an order to stop work until it had produced documents showing the construction of an underground utility vault, second-floor trusses on a building, and the parking garage followed approved plans.

Also, the Oregon State Building Codes Division earlier this year fined Ashland Medford Plumbing, a contractor working at the site, $3,500 because one of the firm's laborers was performing a task that only licensed plumbers were supposed to do.

CONSTRUCTION WORKPLACE SAFETY

Oregon OSHA recently imposed penalties on three firms working on the Capstone construction site in Eugene for the following workplace safety violations:

Associated Cement, West, Texas: Inspectors found inadequate fall protection for workers on the fifth floor of the development's eight-level parking garage. The firm also was found to be using unqualified workers as signal persons for a tower crane. While horizontal lifelines had been installed to prevent workers from falling, Associated supervisors did not know who designed it or if the lifeline had been installed according to a design. Inspectors also found uncapped rebar on the fifth floor of the parking garage, which presented an impalement hazard to workers.

Total penalties: $7,050.
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Title Annotation:Eugene; Fall hazards are among the problems found in three firms constructing a downtown student housing complex
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 17, 2013
Words:1219
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