In the wake of the Market Street building collapse, much has been made of whether the contractor performing the demolition violated OSHA standards and most of the blame has been directed (rightfully so) to the building owner, the demolition contractor, and the City of Philadelphia.  The Salvation Army has thus far avoided scrutiny.  That may now change.

In today’s Philadelphia Daily News, David Gambacorta and William Bender ask what role the Salvation Army’s actions may have played in the tragedy and raises the question of whether the Salvation Army itself violated OSHA.  According to the article, the Salvation Army rebuffed requests to have protective scaffolding placed above the Army’s building and workers complained of hearing bricks fall onto the roof of the building in the weeks leading up to the collapse.  Curiously, the Salvation Army has remained rather silent during the saga except for the obligatory prepared statement about the tragedy.

OSHA is charged with assuring the safety of workers and its guidelines are designed with work place safety in mind.  On the other hand, building codes are designed to assure that buildings are structural sound and habitable.  OSHA standards are not building codes and OSHA does not make sure contractors are following building codes.  Although, there certainly is some overlap.  One example of this, that I made in a previous blog post, is with fall protection.  OSHA requires fall protection for workers working over at a height greater than 6 feet.  OSHA will make sure that roofers are wearing fall protection but will not make sure that a roof is being installed so that it does not leak.  Put another way, if roofers are not wearing fall protection and the contractor is cited, it does not mean the roof was not installed correctly.

Under the so called “general duty” clause of OSHA regulations, employers are required to assure that employers keep their employees free from known hazards that risk causing serious injury or death.  Obviously, if the Salvation Army was aware of the adjacent demolition and, more particularly, of falling debris, then Salvation Army may be guilty of an OSHA violation because it permitted its employees to be exposed to a known hazard.  Of course, in addition to violating OSHA, the Salvation Army may also be liable for common law negligence in permitting its workers from occupying the space while the demolition of the adjacent property occurred.

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