Could use a little roll back here:
McClellan: Small-business owner stands up to government
Gary Heffernan has been a tuckpointer for 35 years. For the last 20, he has been in business for himself. He operates Heff's Tuckpointing out of his home in south St. Louis.
Heff's is a small company with two employees — Heffernan and his nephew. Still, it's a successful operation.
"We stay busy. We have about all the work we can handle, and it's all referrals," Heffernan told me.
It's almost all residential work. The occasional commercial job is usually a small, storefront business.
In April, Heffernan and his nephew were working on a house in the 6400 block of January Avenue. Heffernan had finished rebuilding the chimney and his nephew was finishing up the job when Heffernan left to bid a job in West County. While he was looking at the prospective new job, he got a call from his nephew. There was some kind of a problem with an inspector.
Heffernan returned to the site on January Avenue and found that an inspector for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had shut down the site. In other words, she had told Heffernan's nephew to stop working. Heffernan was taken back.
"I've been doing this for 35 years and I've never seen an OSHA inspector before," he said.
He said the inspector had written several citations. The first thing she told him was his scaffold wasn't level. He said he pulled out his level and put it on the scaffold to show that the scaffold was level. He said the inspector then wrote down the brand name of the level, as if there might be something wrong with his equipment.
"Truth is, you could have put a horse on that scaffold," Heffernan said.
He said he offered to let the inspector walk on the scaffold, but she declined and said she was afraid of heights.
The inspector told him his nephew needed a helmet and a safety harness.
"We have safety harnesses. If the job requires it, we wear them," Heffernan said. "But my nephew was only about 11 feet off the ground. I told the inspector I didn't know what I was supposed to attach the harness to. She told me I could rent a lift and run the main pole above the chimney and have the safety line from that hooked to my nephew. A lift costs about $750 a day. It made no sense."
Eventually, the inspector left. Three months later, in the middle of July, Heffernan received notice in the mail that he had been cited for three violations.
He had "not developed/implemented a Hazard Communication Program for employees engaged in tuckpoint operations using such products as, but not limited to, Portland Cement, Sand, Solomon Colors Concentrated Mortar, and Miracle Morta-LOK Type 'S' Masons Lime." Nor did he maintain an inventory list of these items. The fine was $1,050.
The second violation was that "employees were not protected by protective helmets while working in areas where there was a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns." That fine was $1,050.
Finally, the employees were "not protected by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest system." That fine was $1,500.
Heff's Tuckpointing is a successful operation, but it cannot afford $3,600 in fines.
"I've got good credit. I could borrow the money," Heffernan said. "But this is ridiculous. I'm very safety conscious. Also, my insurance agent said my rates for workmen's comp might go up if I have these violations."
So Heffernan requested a meeting to contest the violations. He said he spoke with an OSHA compliance officer who offered to drop the first violation and reduce the fines of the other two by 40 percent. Heffernan refused the offer. He has now requested a formal hearing.
I called the St. Louis OSHA office Tuesday and spoke with William McDonald, the agency's area director. He said he could not discuss the specifics of the case because it is being contested.
Could he tell me how the OSHA inspector got on the case in the first place?
"Generally speaking, somebody calls. We had a referral in this case. I can't say much beyond that," McDonald said.
What happens next?
"If an informal conference does not resolve the problem, the case gets referred to an administrative judge," McDonald said. "The great majority of cases get worked out before there is an actual hearing."
Perhaps this one will get worked out, but at the moment, Heffernan seems determined to fight it all the way, and he has a safety record with which it's hard to argue.http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/columns/bill-mcclellan/article_ab9ae524-f4f1-51eb-86eb-a35d4ce783e3.html