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Houston Contractors Hit with $315k OSHA Penalty Over Deadly Roof Collapse

Houston Contractors Hit with $315k OSHA Penalty Over Deadly Roof Collapse

OSHA Investigation Uncovers Contractors ‘Willful Disregard for Worker Safety’

A fatal roof collapse in Friendswood, Texas, could have been prevented if two Houston contractors had complied with federal safety regulations. That’s what investigators at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently determined following an investigation into the 2023 Friendswood High School (FHS) roof collapse.

Now, authorities are focused on sending a clear message through hefty penalties, hoping that both the contractors and others take notice and think twice about worker safety.

How the Fatal Friendswood Roof Collapse Happened

In June 2023, two Houston-area contractors — ICI Construction, Inc. (ICI) and Emanuel Enterprises LLC (EE) — were overseeing demolition work at Friendswood High School, located at 702 Greenbriar Drive.

According to local news reports, ICI was reportedly the general contractor on an addition project that had been underway at the FHS auxiliary gym since March 2023. The renovations continued through summer break when staff and students were not on site.

Those activities came to a deadly halt just after 4:40 p.m. on June 13, 2023.

That’s when four demolition workers razed a load-bearing wall, causing the concrete roof over their heads to instantly come crashing down. With that, a 26-year-old worker sustained deadly injuries while three others suffered cuts, bruising, and other minor injuries that were treated at local hospitals.


OSHA Investigation Uncovers Multiple Safety Violations

Federal investigators at OSHA launched an immediate inquiry into the deadly demolition accident, intent on determining what happened and whether the proper safety measures were taken. Wrapping up their investigation in roughly six months, OSHA officials ultimately found that the two Houston contractors had violated federal demolition safety rules.

Specifically, OSHA determined that ICI and EE had committed serious and “willful serious” safety violations. While “serious” violations indicate a disregard for safety responsibilities that can result in injury or harm, the “willful” designation indicates distinct “indifference” to safety standards, rather than ignorance of them.

According to the OSHA citation notices issued to ICI and EE, the serious and willful serious penalties included:

  • Failure to conduct a pre-demolition engineering survey: This precaution could have revealed structural vulnerabilities with the walls, framing, flooring, and more, alerting contractors to the potential for collapse. This violation was associated with the stiffest penalties, with both ICI and EME issued citations exceeding $156,000 for this violation alone.
  • Failure to provide respiratory protections: Demolition workers were unnecessarily exposed to inhalation hazards because they were not equipped with proper, tight-fitting respirators. Multiple OSHA penalties were issued for these violations, with the price tag of each exceeding $11,000.
  • Failures to mitigate other inhalation hazards: In addition to not having the proper respirators, workers at the FHS demolition were exposed to dust and crystalline silica hazards. This was, in part, due to contractors’ failures to set up the required engineering controls. A few of these OSHA penalties were also levied at the Houston contractors for amounts ranging from $11,200 to well over $15,000.

These OSHA cases were still open as of Feb. 2024, as the Houston contractors officially contested the penalties on Jan. 9, 2024. Consequently, this matter is now with a higher adjudicating authority, pending review and a final order.

Construction & Demolition Notoriously Dangerous, Data Shows

OSHA and other authorities typically take a hard line with safety violations, hammering down on noncompliance in the construction and demolition industries. That’s because these industries are exceptionally hazardous, according to OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In fact, according to the latest data:

  • More than 1 in 3 construction worker deaths result from falling accidents, making these incidents the leading cause of deadly accidents at construction sites.
  • The second leading cause of construction worker deaths is “stuck by” incidents, with more than 15% of construction worker fatalities caused by these events.
  • Electrocutions are responsible for more than 7% of construction worker deaths each year. 
  • Entrapments or “caught-between” accidents kill more than 5% of construction workers annually.

Tragically, the fatal injury rate among construction and demolition workers has been on the rise in recent years — and some of these workers are far more vulnerable to life-threatening incidents than others.

In particular, deaths among Hispanic construction workers have skyrocketed over the past decade, rising around 90% and far outpacing their expanding presence in the construction and demolition industry.

How to Report Construction Safety Issues & Incidents to OSHA

If you work in the construction and demolition industries — or any industry — and you experience a safety issue or an accident, you could have the right to file:  

  1. An OSHA Safety Complaint: These OSHA complaints can be filed anonymously to notify authorities of unsafe, risky, or outright dangerous conditions at a workplace. If an OSHA safety complaint is associated with a specific incident, the complaint generally must be filed within 6 months of the event in question.
  2. An OSHA Whistleblower Complaint: These types of OSHA complaints are for reporting employer retaliation related to safety complaints. Here, the filing deadline is 30 to 180 days.

To file an OSHA complaint, workers can:

  1. Call a Texas-area OSHA officeHere is a complete list of all OSHA office locations and phone numbers in Texas.
  2. Submit a complaint form online: Here is the OSHA whistleblower complaint form, along with instructions and details about what’s required for these submissions.
  3. Visit an OSHA office in person: There are 9 OSHA offices in Texas, with 2 located in Houston.

While OSHA can launch investigations and penalize the parties that violate federal safety regulations, that may not be enough to help victims recover from roof collapses, falls, electrocutions, and other serious accidents at construction and demolition sites. An experienced attorney can, however, help the injured understand their rights and legal options.