MEMBERS OF FAIRFAX County's Baord of Supervisors are furious -- and well they should be -- about Virginia's incredibly lax safety inspection system at construction sites. There is no question that the state is inviting death and injuries with its inexcusable failure to inspect construction sites in the county, or anywhere else in Virginia for that matter. The first sentence of a report by staff writer Glenn Frankel is chilling enough: "Despite a toll of 14 worker deaths in the last two years, Northern Virginia's booming construction industry went virtually uninspected during peak building months this year by the state agency responsible for enforcing safety laws."
Records of the state's Division of Construction Safety show that from April through August inspectors averaged only 10 visits each month to job sites employing a total of about 150 workers. The excuses? For one thing, officials reply, the division's Northern Virginia office was short one inspector for the first eight months of the year, he retired, and that left a grand total of -- count'em -- two. Officials also blame federally mandated paper work for a decrease in inspections. Finally, they point out that punishment is minimal, since fines for a serious violation may not exceed $1,000 -- small change alongside the cost of fixing violations.
So much for unacceptable excuses -- does the administration of Gov. John Dalton care? His press secretary responds that Virginia "rigorously enforces safety regulations within the limits of government manpower and budget." If that's "rigor," how many more deaths will it take for a serious inspection program?
Officials said that they are considering an option of closing down the state program and returning jurisdiction to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Already, federal officials have conducted a two-week crackdown in which 15 inspectors wrote nearly 200 citations at Northern Virginia sites. In addition, the Fairfax supervisors have ordered spotchecks by county inspectors and shutdowns of any sites in which estensive violations of federal safety rules are detected.
So far, state officials seem more concerned about whether the county has a legal right to shut down unsafe job sites and what the courts might say or do about it. But Fairfax County officials are talking about human lives -- and they are right to exert every available pressure on Richmond to improve the shameful inspection program in Virginia.