The head of the Washington Building and Construction Trades Council said yesterday that his group told federal safety officials of what it believed were safety hazards at the Willard Hotel more than a week before a worker was killed there, but that the agency did not investigate the site until after the death.
Robert S. Parker, secretary-treasurer of the council, which represents 17 local unions, said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) told a council official that the agency would not investigate the alleged hazards -- which were not in the area where the man was killed -- because the safety complaint did not originate directly from a worker on the job.
OSHA officials, however, said that they had no record of any such complaint filed by the council and denied that they would have refused to investigate on the grounds cited by Parker.
"Unless they have specific complaints, we can't respond to every phone call," said Lawrence Liberatore, OSHA's area director in Baltimore, in an interview earlier this week. "They can file a complaint with us, but we haven't received one."
Last Wednesday, 18-year-old construction worker Robert Adams Jr. of Northwest Washington was killed when an 11th-floor wall and ceiling of the historic Pennsylvania Avenue hotel collapsed.
OSHA officials are still investigating the death and overall safety conditions at the Willard site and have said they are focusing on whether the site was properly supervised and whether Adams, who had been working at the site barely a week, had received proper training and equipment. Safety inspectors said last week the area where the collapse occurred should have been cordoned off during demolition, which might have prevented Adams from getting too close to the wall.
The $100 million project is being developed by the Oliver T. Carr Co., with demolition being done by Regina Construction Corp. of Alexandria. A spokesman for a subcontractor, Independent Services Ltd., last week confirmed that the accident site had not been cordoned off, and said, "In hindsight, that might have prevented the problem."
Joseph Bartholomy, a business representative of the trades council, said he visited the Willard site during the week of Sept. 11 as part of a union effort to monitor work at both union job sites and nonunion ones, such as the Willard. Bartholomy said he noted what he believed to be "very unsafe conditions" inside the building, including large holes in floors that were not covered, exterior wall sections that had been removed but did not have guardrails and other apparent problems.
Representatives of the firms involved in construction at the site were not available for comment yesterday on the alleged conditions described by Bartholomy.
Bartholomy, who said he has 34 years of experience as a carpenter, foreman and construction superintendent, said he called the Baltimore OSHA office, talked to safety inspector James Sullivan and "I told him there were very unsafe conditions, and that somebody from OSHA ought to go down there and take a look and walk the site."
"He said they were not able to just go on the job site without a complaint from someone who worked on the job," Bartholomy said.
Sullivan said he has talked to Bartholomy about other safety issues but said he could not recall a conversation about the Willard.
Sullivan and Liberatore both said that because of the large volume of complaints OSHA receives, the agency prefers to investigate complaints that arise directly from the affected workers and those that cite specific violations. But both said the agency would not refuse to investigate a complaint such as the one Bartholomy said he made.
OSHA closed its Washington area office 18 months ago, and the trades council has complained that the agency's local enforcement effort has lagged. Liberatore said this complaint is also unfounded, and that the agency has increased the number of inspectors and inspections since the closing.