A group of contractors working a new residential construction project on Long Beach Island in the weeks since Hurricane Sandy say they will be fined by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and other contractors are wary of working here now.
The contractors say they are waiting to receive the violations and feel the fines they face are unfair and couldn’t come at a worse time. They say the fines could be as much as $5,000 and the prospect of federal investigators on the island is keeping some builders away from their projects for fear of being cited by overzealous inspectors.
A spokeswoman for OSHA said the agency’s presence on the island is to complete inspections related to ongoing construction of new residential homes completely unrelated to Sandy recovery and rebuilding.
But the group of contractors working the new residential construction site in the Brant Beach section of Long Beach Township said OSHA picked a poor time to come in and issue violations.
Kevin Engelken, owner of Hansen Custom Homes, said he was starting to work on repairing homes he had built for customers that were damaged in the storm when he heard that OSHA was in town.
"When we heard they were here, I told my boys, put on your hard hats, keep your eyes open and stay on the ground and don't go up on a ladder," Engelken said.
Although he hasn't been fined since starting work after the storm, Engelken said, he is on edge at the job site. He said it is horrible to work under the eyes of OSHA, but especially when he is trying to put his customers' storm-damaged homes back together.
"I work very safe with my guys, and when I got fined last year by OSHA it was totally bogus. And for them to come in now it was like whacking me over the head. I am concerned for the petty stuff they can get you for, like if there is a cable at the job site and it's not supposed to be there, they will fine you," he said.
The builders’ complaints have attracted the attention of federal and local officials.
U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan said the fines defy common sense and need to stop immediately.
"While I understand OSHA has an important role in ensuring the safety of new construction projects, this is not the time to be issuing fines,” Runyan said.
Runyan spokesman Andrew Fasoli said the office was contacted, regarding OSHA's recent visit to LBI and the congressman is continuing to work with the agency to address the issue.
Last month, President Barack Obama came to Brigantine following Sandy's destruction and said the main focus should be on helping New Jersey recover from the storm.
”We are not going to tolerate red tape. We are not going to tolerate bureaucracy," Obama said.
"I agree with President Obama that this is no time for red tape and bureaucracy. Residents need the government to help facilitate their efforts to rebuild, not impede them,” Runyan said Monday.
Another official speaking out against OSHA's actions is a Long Beach Island mayor and builder.
Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini said he has called Gov. Chris Christie’s office for some assistance with what the contractors have told the township they have experienced.
“This just isn’t the right time for OSHA to be coming in here and doing this,” said Mancini, who owns Mancini Realty Co.
One of the contractors cited said his work crew was issued a violation for a ladder in the wrong position.
“Talk about kicking us while we’re down. They drove on the island and they happened to show up on a job site. They happened to drive down the street and they were looking for violations,” said Jim Sutter, owner of Coastal Roofing.
OSHA investigators were on the island the first day it was opened to contractors since the Oct. 29 storm, Sutter said.
When the investigators do show up it’s in unmarked vehicles, with out-of-state plates and they usually videotape workers at construction sites and take pictures, Sutter said.
An OSHA investigator told Sutter’s employees at the site last Wednesday that they were in violation for not having a ladder three feet above the surface they were working on, he said.
An email from OSHA spokeswoman Joanna Hawkins stated that the inspection was opened against Sutter’s company for “Imminent Danger — Fall Hazards in Construction”.
Hawkins wrote that in June 2011, Coastal Roofing was cited for two serious violations of the OSHA standard, including one serious citation for lack of residential fall protection and one serious citation for failure to provide fall protection training to employees.
Sutter’s violation last week could come with a fine of as much as $5,000 and there’s no such thing as warning from OSHA, he said.
“Here we are just getting back onto the island after not being able to work for two weeks and we come back and get a violation from OSHA. It’s ridiculous. They need to just leave us alone,” Sutter said.
In addition to Sutter, two additional contractors working on the same site were also in violation last Wednesday, according to OHSA inspectors.
The open inspections include an investigation at the site involving Sharpe Construction for “Imminent Danger – Fall Hazards in Construction,” according to Hawkins’ email.
Hawkins wrote that Sharpe Construction was cited in August 2009 for “three serious violations of the OSHA standard,” including “One high-gravity serious citation for lack of fall protection on a scaffold”.
Bob Sharpe, owner of Sharpe Construction said he feels like OSHA came over to the island, knowing that they would be able to issue violations because of the recovery and catchup work by contractors that was taking place.
It’s a cash-cow on Long Beach Island and OSHA knows that, Sharpe said.
OSHA also opened an inspection against Nelke Roofing last Wednesday who is working at the same site with Sutter and Sharpe. The reason for the inspection opening, according to Hawkins, was for “Imminent Danger – Fall Hazards in Construction”. Nelke Roofing has no recent OSHA inspection history, Hawkins wrote.
Jon Nelke said last Wednesday, once word got out that OSHA was in town last Wednesday, the first day contractors were permitted to return to LBI, there was a mass exodus of contractors who were concerned about possible violations.
Nelke said last week he spoke with the inspector who came to the work site and she could not tell him exactly what he was in violation of or a dollar amount of the fine he could be facing.
In an email, Hawkins stated that OSHA has up to six months to complete its investigations.
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