By Beth Treffeisen
Special to the Gazette
Mayor Martin Walsh recenlty filed an ordinance aimed at further protecting the safety of workers and the public by allowing the City of Boston the right to deny, revoke, or suspend a permit for work in Boston based on an applicant’s work safety history.
This ordinance comes only a few weeks after Atlantic Drain Services employees Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks drowned after a water main broke flooding their construction ditch in the South End.
“We know how dangerous work sites can be, and in Boston we are committed to doing all we can to protect those working in our city,” said Walsh in a statement. “I urge the City Council to move quickly on this proposal so Boston can put these changes into effect immediately.”
The ordinance will require that those receiving permits to work within the City of Boston to swear and affirm their work safety history, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations.
Currently, the City of Boston does not have this authority and is not notified of resolved or outstanding OSHA violations.
OSHA reports show Atlantic Drain Services has a lengthy history of violations, meaning the company knew a particular safeguard was required.
These violations include citations for workers lacking oxygen underground and for conditions that could lead to trench cave-ins. OSHA also reports that Atlantic Drain Services has yet to pay well over $74,000 in fines incurred over the years.
At the time of the accident, the City of Boston could do nothing to stop Atlantic Drain Services from being awarded the permits it needed to begin work.
“Every worker deserves the right to a safe workplace,” said Brian Doherty, the head of the Greater Boston Building and Construction Trades, in a statement. “It’s unconscionable that any contractor would allegedly cut corners that put workers in harm’s way. It undermines other contractors doing the right thing. There is no space for this in our region – and we have to stand collectively against it.”
The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (MassCOSH) is pleased to see this ordinance come forward.
“For too long, employers have been able to flout national safety laws without fear that some city or town would use their record to determine if they should be denied permits,” said Jeff Newton, the membership and communications coordinator for MassCOSH, in a statement.
He continued, “This ordinance clearly states that bad actors who put their employees at risk need to change their practices to do business in Boston.”
The ordinance will update the City of Boston Municipal Code to allow a city officer in charge of issuing a permit to deny, revoke, or suspend a permit to a person, corporation, or business entity that has a history of engaging in unsafe, hazardous, or dangerous practices.
Applicants for permits will be required to inform the permitting department of any and all OSHA violations, both current and resolved.
The ordinance would go into effect immediately once approved by the City Council and signed by the mayor.