by: Cici Yu
Boston City Councilors discussed the City’s safety guidelines for construction sites and measures to keep residents safe during a virtual committee hearing Monday after one worker was killed and another was injured in a stairwell collapse at a Cambridge parking garage last March.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited and fined contractors LBR Property Management and Structural Group Sept.17 for their role in the construction accident.
The hearing was moderated by Councilor Julia Mejia, chair of the Small Businesses and Workforce Development committee. Councilor Ed Flynn and Councilor Liz Breadon — who sponsored the issue — were also in attendance, along with Councilor Kenzie Bok and other government department staff.
“Boston, as we all know, it’s experiencing a rapid increase in building construction,” Flynn said.
Over the past few years, there have been multiple accidents at construction sites in the city.
According to the hearing order, a construction worker was killed by equipment in late 2019, and the falling debris from a North End construction site severely injured a woman in July 2019.
“There are penalties imposed by the local city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts,” Sean Lydon, the interim commissioner of the City’s Inspectional Services Department, said in an interview. “They can impose their fines, they can suspend, revoke different licenses … they can basically refuse to let them operate within the state of Massachusetts.”
The ISD administers and enforces City regulations in areas of construction, sanitation, safety, housing and health. Lydon said the ISD follows strict OSHA guidelines and is in constant communication with OSHA and state-building inspectors.
“In the application process, the safety ratings of these different companies applying for the particular permits that they use they’re scrutinized, highly scrutinized,” he said. “If they’re not operating in a safe manner, then they will not be issued that permit, they’re not allowed to work in the city of Boston.”
Mynor Perez, the regional manager of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters — a union representing carpenters, shop and millmen, floorcoverers and pile-drivers in New England states — said at the meeting that because many construction workers in the city are immigrants and may not have prior OSHA training or speak English as their first language, providing an OSHA class for individuals in their native language is a “highly effective” way to reduce accidents.
Flynn said another “unconscionable” thing he saw in the city on a construction site is wage theft, where workers are not paid in accordance with the law.
“If this boss of this company doesn’t even want to pay [the] workers, how the heck are they even going to give them safe working conditions,” he said.
Breadon brought up a question to the ISD about whether there is a whistleblower system available for workers who want to report unsafe practices on the job.
“It’s incorporated as part of a 311 program,” Lydon said during the meeting. “Any individual at any time they can either call this office or call 311, the inspector will respond immediately.”
Beyond just worker concerns, Flynn said at the panel that Boston residents and workers near construction sites and pedestrians have expressed fears about safety.
There are currently three construction sites on campus, including one construction site of the Center for Computing and Data Sciences, one near Myles Standish Hall in Kenmore Square and one next to 1019 Commonwealth Avenue.
Amanee Vazquez, a Boston University sophomore in the College of Engineering who currently lives in Myles Standish Hall, said personally the site isn’t a “big hazard,” though Vasquez did note that the fences seem close to the actual building and wondered if a falling object could potentially fall out of the fence.
“They tend to do construction during the day, and I only walk pass or longboard pass very briefly, so I don’t feel like I’m putting myself in danger and I don’t think that the people around are in danger,” he said.
Vasquez said he observed the sidewalk near the construction site by Myles is wobbly.
“Perhaps an elderly person walking, I feel like they may struggle with the uneven ground,” Vazquez added.
Ashley Makuwa, a sophomore in the College of General Studies, said that as long as you pay attention to the signs warning of construction in the area, pedestrians will remain safe.
“On the crosswalk between where they’re building the Data Science Building and the [College of Arts and Sciences] building, there are police [officers] who are often standing there making sure that you cross the road safely,” Makuwa said.
In maintaining the safety of the neighborhoods surrounding construction sites, the Boston Police Department plays a “critical role,” Flynn said in an interview.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces that happen on a construction site,” he said. “It takes a skilled and professional member of the Boston Police to observe all of this but also to be engaged and active on a site to make sure it is safe.”
Flynn hopes to continue working with BPD, construction companies and the Boston Transportation Department.
“We need to make sure that the site is safe for everybody, for workers, for pedestrians and for the general public,” Flynn said.