Construction and manufacturing companies working with the Department of Defense have been cited for serious safety or health violations, some leading to death, according to an analysis of federal data by the Government Accountability Office.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 includes a provision for GAO to review issues related to the safety and health records of DoD contractors.

According to the GAO report, a sampling of 192 companies with DoD contracts were selected for review. Of those, 106 had been inspected by the Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or state occupational safety and health agencies during fiscal years 2013 through 2017.

In total, the report found that close to 80 percent of contractors reviewed were found to have committed at least one violation.

Further, the inspections resulted in 83 companies being cited for at least one violation, including 52 with at least one serious violation.

The GAO report cites the DoD as the largest contracting agency in the federal government, obligating about $320 billion for contracts in the fiscal year 2017. Some DOD contracts — including some in the manufacturing and construction industries — involve work that can be dangerous, and questions have been raised about working conditions for these workers.

In the report, which does not list figures for the total workforce affected, seven deaths were cited from 2013 through 2017 due to defense contractor safety violations:

  • a worker drowned when a barge capsized after a crane tilted over
  • a worker was killed after falling 98 feet from an elevator
  • a worker sustained a fatal electric shock and another worker injured
  • an autoclave exploded, striking and killing a worker
  • two workers were pulled under unmoored vessel due to high winds, one worker died
  • one worker was killed from a hydrogen blast after being pinned under a 20,000-pound lid, another worker receiving second-degree burns, and a third worker killed

Current policy and guidance do not specifically direct DoD contracting officials to search and review contractor safety records before awarding contracts.

However, report findings say that officials at the DoD have multiple opportunities to address contractor safety throughout the acquisition process, but that some are unaware that the relevant history of contractor safety information is available on the OSHA website.

The report states that the DOD, Army, Navy, United States Army Corps of Engineers and Naval Sea Systems Command are in a position to avoid contractors with a history of OSHA safety violations if they reviewed the companies submitting bids during on the website.

Earlier this week, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren put both the Department of Defense and OSHA on notice with letters addressing increased workplace safety and health violations committed by DoD contractors and the process by which the DoD screens prospective contractors.

In the letters, Warren, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, called for further action from the DoD and the OSHA to protect defense workers by fixing the gaps in contractor oversight identified in its report.

Congress responded by including Senator Warren’s provision in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that required GAO to study DoD’s existing procedures for evaluating the workplace safety records of its contractors, according to a press release from Warren’s office.

The GAO is making one recommendation to OSHA and two recommendations to DoD to enhance available information on contractor workplace safety.

OSHA neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO’s recommendation, but planned to take action to address it. DoD agreed with the recommendations.

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