Contractor cited for 17 workplace health violations at 15 Cottage St. mill building



Last modified: Monday, July 21, 2014

EASTHAMPTON — A Connecticut contracting company that worked on the renovation of the former Dye Works building on Cottage Street was cited by the U.S. Labor Department for 17 serious workplace health violations after workers were allegedly exposed to lead and other health hazards.

Maher Industries, doing business as A Fast Blast, faces $47,600 in proposed fines from the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration as a result of conditions found during an April inspection.

“Workers performing abrasive blasting during the renovation of an Easthampton mill were overexposed to lead and silica and faced other health hazards due to their employer’s failure to supply basic, legally required safeguards,” OSHA said in a press release.

The mill building at 15 Cottage St., owned by Arch Street Development of Boston, is currently being gutted and renovated as part of an $18 million project to create 50 units of affordable rental housing.

Arch Street Development co-owner Colin P. O’Keeffe said he was not aware of the alleged violations at the site. The general contractor, James J. Welch & Co. of Salem, is responsible for ensuring all its subcontractors are complying with regulations and keeping workers safe, he said.

“We were very surprised,” O’Keeffe said. “We’ve worked with this contractor before and we’ve never had any problems with any subcontractors.”

James Maher, owner of A Fast Blast, said that his company is responsible for ensuring employees have the right safety equipment, but it is the general contractor’s job to monitor the work site and ensure that it is safe and hazard-free. He said that after disagreeing with James J. Welch & Co. over the safety at the site, he pulled his two employees from the job about three weeks ago. “I was concerned about my guys,” Maher said.

He said he has been cooperating with OSHA since the inspection because he knew there were safety issues, but he and his wife were surprised when they got the citation from OSHA Wednesday and saw the $47,600 fine.

“Our eyes popped,” he said.

He said he will meet with OSHA officials and do what he can to appeal the charges that he sees as James J. Welch & Co.’s responsibility.

Attempts to contact James J. Welch & Co. were unsuccessful Thursday.

OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said the Springfield OSHA office investigated the alleged violations from April to June as a result of a complaint about workplace conditions.

The violations are considered serious, which means there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from the hazard.

While the workers were blasting the lead paint from the walls, they were exposed to airborne concentrations of lead and silica that were over set exposure limits. The lead concentration was between 1.7 and 2.6 times the limit and the silica concentration was between 35 and 78 times the limit. According to the press release, A Fast Blast made no efforts to reduce those concentrations and also did not test to monitor lead exposure levels.

Maher maintains that those tasks are Welch’s responsibility and said he was very concerned about the elevated levels.

But Maher said he was responsible for training and outfitting his employees with safety gear, and OSHA spotted violations regarding the gear.

In the citation to Maher Industries, Mary Hoye, OSHA’s area director for central and western Massachusetts, wrote that the employer did not provide high-efficiency particulate air filters for workers’ respirators, did not train workers to wear respirators correctly, and did not ensure that all employees were wearing coveralls.

Maher said that while he does train his employees properly, he is not always on site to make sure they are following the rules. He said he fired two of his four employees Thursday because they failed to follow the safety protocol.

While none of his employees has had health problems, the conditions that can be caused by the exposures are not quick to appear. Lead exposure can cause long-term damage to the central nervous, urinary, blood and reproductive systems and crystalline silica can cause lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in workers, according to the press release.

The development at 15 Cottage St., called Cottage Square, should be ready for occupancy in January, O’Keeffe said.

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


 


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