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Contractors rack up OSHA fines for putting workers in danger at Cottage Square affordable housing project in Easthampton

  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>A crew works on the roof of a two story building in the back of 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton on Monday. The former Dye Works site is being converted into a 50-unit complex, Cottage Square Apartments, under general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem.

    KEVIN GUTTING
    A crew works on the roof of a two story building in the back of 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton on Monday. The former Dye Works site is being converted into a 50-unit complex, Cottage Square Apartments, under general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem. Purchase photo reprints »

  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>Work continues Monday toward the construction of Cottage Square Apartments at 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, site of the former Dye Works, under general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem.

    KEVIN GUTTING
    Work continues Monday toward the construction of Cottage Square Apartments at 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, site of the former Dye Works, under general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem. Purchase photo reprints »

  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>Work continues Monday toward the construction of Cottage Square Apartments at the site of the former Dye Works, 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, under general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem. <br/>

    KEVIN GUTTING
    Work continues Monday toward the construction of Cottage Square Apartments at the site of the former Dye Works, 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, under general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>A worker refills his mud pan with joint compound while installing drywall at 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, site of the former Dye Works factory and future site of Cottage Square Apartments.<br/><br/>

    KEVIN GUTTING
    A worker refills his mud pan with joint compound while installing drywall at 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, site of the former Dye Works factory and future site of Cottage Square Apartments.

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>Work continues behind 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, site of the former Dye Works, where general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem, is overseeing the renovation of the old mill building into a 50-unit complex, Cottage Square Apartments.

    KEVIN GUTTING
    Work continues behind 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, site of the former Dye Works, where general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem, is overseeing the renovation of the old mill building into a 50-unit complex, Cottage Square Apartments. Purchase photo reprints »

  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>A crew works on the roof of a two story building in the back of 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton on Monday. The former Dye Works site is being converted into a 50-unit complex, Cottage Square Apartments, under general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem.
  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>Work continues Monday toward the construction of Cottage Square Apartments at 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, site of the former Dye Works, under general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem.
  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>Work continues Monday toward the construction of Cottage Square Apartments at the site of the former Dye Works, 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, under general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem. <br/>
  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>A worker refills his mud pan with joint compound while installing drywall at 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, site of the former Dye Works factory and future site of Cottage Square Apartments.<br/><br/>
  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>Work continues behind 15 Cottage Street in Easthampton, site of the former Dye Works, where general contractor James J. Welch & Co., of Salem, is overseeing the renovation of the old mill building into a 50-unit complex, Cottage Square Apartments.

OSHA representatives in its Springfield office have performed several inspections — including some after complaints by workers — since renovations began in January on the 50-unit affordable housing project to be called Cottage Square.

According to OSHA records, the general contractor and three other companies failed to ensure the safety of those working above the ground and workers removing lead paint.

Two subcontractors are contesting the OSHA fines, including A Fast Blast of Connecticut, which was fined $47,600. The two other companies, including the general contractor, have agreed to pay fines for not protecting workers at the site.

General contractor James J. Welch & Co. of Salem, which has a history of violations at other sites, paid $8,874 in fines related to violations at the Dye Works project in April and June. OSHA investigators were back at the site July 11 to check for a possible “fall hazard” after receiving a complaint from a worker, according to OSHA spokesman Edmund Fitzgerald. The issue is still under investigation, he said.

Fitzgerald said he is not aware of any accidents at the 15 Cottage St. site.

Arch Street Development of Boston is renovating the former mill building as part of an $18 million project — paid for partly through federal and state tax credits and subsidies — to create 50 units of affordable rental housing. The developer’s co-owner, Colin P. O’Keeffe, said that he was aware that OSHA had announced $47,600 in fines against A Fast Blast, but did not know of any other violations at the site.

He said it is the responsibility of the general contractor, to ensure that all employees are safe on the site, including those who work for subcontractors.

“This is the first time we’ve seen this,” O’Keeffe said, adding that Arch Street and Welch worked together on a similar project in North Adams in 2009. “We’re on site more now than we have been earlier in the project. We’re meeting with Welch and subcontractors weekly and trying to keep an eye on all that happens.”

He said that while having one OSHA violation is not unusual on a construction site, “a string of them” is more concerning.

“All projects like this have a lot of moving parts, a lot of players,” he said. “But we’re pretty pleased with the way it’s going. There have been a few bumps in the road, but it’s going to be a great project.”

He said the project is on budget and on track to have low-income tenants by January.

Four companies cited

The U.S. Department of Labor announced July 17 that Maher Industries, doing business as A Fast Blast, would face fines for failing to protect workers’ health while they blasted lead paint off walls during an April 1 inspection prompted by a complaint. The alleged violations included making no efforts to reduce the concentrations of lead and silica in the air when they were over the set exposure limits and failing to provide or train employees to wear respirators and coveralls.

But the day the fines were announced, A Fast Blast Owner James Maher said that James J. Welch & Co. was responsible for ensuring that the workplace was not hazardous. He said he ordered his workers off the site because Welch refused to address his concerns about their safety.

Voicemails and emails for representatives of James J. Welch & Co. were not returned Monday. The company has agreed to pay $8,874 in fines for 14 violations at the site. The amount was reduced from $21,022 as part of an informal settlement.

On June 9, according to OSHA records, Welch violated OSHA regulations that prohibit using scaffolds that are not “fully planked or decked,” using a damaged or weakened scaffold, and allowing employees on scaffolds without protecting them from falling.

After the same April 1 inspection that led to fine for A Fast Blast, Welch was fined for 11 violations including failing to monitor the exposure levels through environmental samples and biological testing of employees, and failing to provide protective clothing, respirators, and the training to wear them appropriately.

Fitzgerald said that both Welch and A Fast Blast were fined for the lead paint issues because employers are responsible for their own employees. “Each employer was cited for the hazards to which their employees were exposed,” he said.

Also accepting a $1,400 fine as part of an informal settlement was E.F. Fogarty Construction of Middleton. According to OSHA records, an inspection June 9 as a result of a complaint found that the company did not protect employees from falling from a low-slope roof by using guardrails, safety nets, harnesses, or a safety monitoring system.

Patriots Environmental Corp. of Oxford is contesting $12,600 in fines for three alleged violations observed during a March 3 inspection prompted by a complaint. The majority of the proposed fines, $9,800, was levied for an alleged repeat violation of the requirement that an employer use guardrails or harnesses to prevent employee from falling in a hoisting area.

The other two alleged violations had to do with using a ladder for a purpose for which it was not designed and failing to ensure a ladder to an upper level was secured at its top.

Past violations

O’Keeffe said he and his partner, Richard Relich, selected James J. Welch & Co. as the general contractor based on the company’s bid price, references and their past experience working together on the Clark Biscuit Apartments in North Adams.

O’Keeffe said they typically do not research OSHA records for past violations when choosing a contractor.

At the Clark Biscuit Apartments in 2009, Welch was fined $600 by OSHA for two violations: failing to add railings or other safety features to a stairwell and failing to mark exits.

Since 2008, OSHA has cited Welch for 62 violations as a result of 11 inspections at Massachusetts construction sites. Those include 22 citations for failing to protect against falls, 16 violations about the use of electrical equipment, 12 violations regarding respiratory hazards, three violations regarding power tools, and other violations including failing to protect workers from impalement on exposed rebar.

The construction sites are in Easthampton, North Adams, South Yarmouth, Cambridge, Boston, Holliston, Dorchester, and Allston.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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