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How OSHA enforcement impacted the real estate industry in 2017

Legal Concerns

Over the past decade, apartment building managers have been cited 1372 times by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. As a property manager, how can you ensure your employees’ safety, as well as your compliance with OSHA enforcement guidelines?

2 OSHA Enforcement Cautionary Tales for Property Managers

The most severe OSHA enforcement smack-down of a real estate entity in recent memory was the case of Olivet Management, LLC in New York. The company was cited for 45 willful violations and initial fines of $2,352,000, many of which involved knowingly exposing workers to lead and asbestos without a single safety precaution. OSHA also accused the company of failing to notify waste haulers that they were transporting hazardous substances, exposing additional people to serious health risks and resulting in the materials’ improper disposal.

In another case, a worker for Sun Communities, Inc.—a property management firm in North Carolina—made the grave mistake of adding a full pool’s worth of chlorine crystals to a single bucket of water. The mixture was far too powerful; it immediately began to foam and pop beyond the worker’s control. Consequently, the worker was splashed by the toxic slurry and inhaled chlorine vapors. The company was hit with multiple penalties, including a $2000 fine for failing to provide protective equipment and a $4000 fine for failing to provide facial protection for workers exposed to chemical hazards. Additional fines were imposed for failing to provide a way for workers to flush out their eyes after exposure to toxic chemicals; to stock sufficient first aid supplies; to train personnel to provide medical aid; or to adequately communicate hazard warnings to employees. (If your facility has a pool, it’s a good idea to review OSHA’s requirements for the safe storage and handling of swimming pool chemicals.)

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2017 OSHA Enforcement Real Estate Roundup

Here is a selection of the 17 properties cited by OSHA and state safety & occupational health regulators last year:

  • Another Salem, OR apartment manager was fined $2000—$500 for each of 4 separate violations, including inadequate personal protective equipment and failure to conduct a risk assessment.
  • A Louisville, KY apartment manager was fined $3500 for several violations, including inadequate first aid training, inadequate eye and face protection, inadequate hazard communication, and inadequate respiratory protection.
  • An Indianapolis, IN apartment building operator was fined $27,500 for 11 different violations, all of which were related to asbestos hazards.
  • Across all industries, the 5 most frequently cited “seriousOSHA violations of 2016 were fall protection, hazard communication, scaffolding, respiratory protection, lockout/tagout. “Serious” violations are those in which “there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.”
  • Across all industries, the 5 most frequently cited “willfulOSHA violations of 2016 were fall protection, lockout/tagout, lead, excavations, and mechanical power presses. “Willful” violations are those “committed with an intentional disregard of or plain indifference to the requirements of [OSHA].”

What lessons can we learn? It appears that Oregon state regulators are particularly active in targeting multi-family residential operators for occupational safety and health enforcement.

It’s also apparent that many fines resulted from preventable mistakes. There were several incidences of failure to adequately communicate hazards, which is a failure on the part of management, not rank-and-file workers in the field. In addition, it’s no great matter to provide adequate breathing and eye protection to maintenance employees and technicians; but in some cases, managers and landlords failed to even conduct a risk assessment to identify the need for such precautions.

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Property Management/Apartment Operator Worker Fatalities

OSHA enforcement actions aside, the real nightmare scenarios for all of us involve worker or resident fatalities. While residential property management is not considered a high-risk industry, it is not without its hazards—especially where construction and renovation are occurring.

Here are a few examples of recent fatalities in the residential property management industry:

  • In 2015, a worker was killed in front of his Louisiana apartment complex when the flagpole he was working on came in contact with a nearby power line.
  • In 2012, a 28-year-old worker in Florida was killed while operating a riding lawn mower—possibly as a result of trying to fuel it while it was running.
  • In 2012, a worker was killed while installing ceiling tiles in New Jersey when he fell 8 feet from a ladder.
  • In 2012, a Florida worker was painting a roof when he fell 25 feet through a skylight.
  • In 2011, an Arkansas worker cleaning a grinder’s conveyor belt was killed when the equipment’s screen fell, pinning the worker against the screen bar and the back of the grinder.

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Jason Van Steenwyk

Jason is a freelance writer and editor, as well as an avid fiddler. His articles have been published in a number of real estate publications including Wealth and Retirement Planner and Bankrate.com. He lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL with his cat, Sasha, and an unknown number of musical instruments.

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