Sorry, I’m a Safety Snitch

When I see an OSHA violation, I might take action. It’s because I care about workers and don’t want to see them hurt on the job.

Sorry, I’m a Safety Snitch

This unidentified worker is at the bottom of an estimated 15-foot-deep septic tank excavation with no shoring, a clear OSHA violation. This photo was submitted to Onsite Installer. We wouldn’t normally run it in the magazine, but do so here to stress the importance of following safety rules. We alerted the installer contractor about the violation on the job site.

Interested in Safety?

Get Safety articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Safety + Get Alerts

There’s a road construction project in progress in my neighborhood, with a crew replacing some storm sewer collection lines and resurfacing the street. Dump trucks, excavators and other equipment are being shuttled up and down my block as I write this column.

Yesterday, I heard and felt an excavator operator slamming on some concrete and got up to look out the front window. The worker at the controls was repeatedly dropping curb and gutter debris on the roadway trying to bust it into more manageable chunks to drop into a waiting dump truck. As the work progressed, he was swinging the bucket from the debris pile to the dump truck, quickly weighing down the dump body.

I surveyed the workers on the scene, one was standing right under the bucket as it turned to dump a load. You read that right, the worker was standing under the bucket … and neither he nor other workers in the vicinity were wearing hard hats. In this business I am trained to look for OSHA violations, and a minimum of two of them were staring me right in the face.


I don’t like to be a snitch, but even more, I don’t like to see construction workers at risk of being hurt, or even killed, on the job for someone disregarding safety regulations. Unfortunately, I have personal experience in witnessing a terrible worker accident, but more on that later. Just like you see on TV cop shows when officers are making a public arrest, I as a bystander pulled out my phone and took a picture of the unsafe practices — and then emailed it to the city engineer overseeing these construction projects, who I know from serving as a city alderman in the past. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. But I couldn’t sit by and do nothing, knowing these workers’ lives were being put at risk.

It wasn’t five minutes later and the city staff pulled up and let the private contracting company know someone had reported an OSHA violation. I peeked out the window a few minutes later and all workers were attired in their hard hats and reflective vests. The engineer called me when he returned to his office.

“They went right to their trucks and pulled out the hard hats,” he told me.

As is often the case when I hear about OSHA violations in the onsite industry, the appropriate safety equipment was readily at hand — but the workers chose not to use it and the foreman didn’t bother to check the workers and enforce the rules. There is no excuse for inaction on the part of the worker or the supervisor in those cases. Either they forgot to review the safety checklist for the day, they were too lazy or inconvenienced to wear hard hats or they purposely disregarded the rules in place to keep them safe.


These workers might feel differently had they known what happened on that very spot in front of my house two years previous. I wrote about the earlier incident in my Installer column at the time. It shook me then and it’s probably what prompted me to contact the city engineer yesterday.

It was daybreak and I woke up to the sounds of a city arborist crew who were taking down dead ash trees up and down my block that week. They had just started raising the arm on the bucket truck when I peered out the window, unprepared for what I would see. The bucket was tangled in the limbs of a tree and a worker was lying face up on the pavement, his arms and legs outstretched, motionless. A coworker was pacing back and forth in the street, talking on a cellphone.

Soon city vehicles, police cars, EMTs and fire trucks responded. Later that day I learned the worker had fallen from the bucket and died. It was a terrible tragedy that should have been preventable. In the blink of an eye, it left a family without a father and husband, and had a devastating impact on the street department and the community.

I guess I was fearing the same thing could happen yesterday if I didn’t take action. That’s why I can no longer stand back and ignore what I know is a violation of OSHA rules and regulations. I am willing to accept the potential wrath of a contractor who doesn’t think his safety practices are any of my business if my complaint keeps a worker out of harm’s way. And I hope you feel the same way.

And I also feel strongly about safety because, unfortunately, I too often see violations in the onsite industry.

Recently, we sent a photographer to shoot a contractor profile story, and when the photos showed up on my desktop, I was disturbed by what I saw. Several photos showed workers at the bottom of an excavation, I would estimate it was 15 feet deep, with vertical walls, no shoring boxes for protection against a trench collapse, and no adequate banking of spoils around the hole. Other photos showed a lack of required personal protective equipment that could have led to injury.

One of our editors called the contractor being featured and told him of the violations. The contractor said he had no idea there were any OSHA violations at the work site.


For the most part, I know onsite professionals take safety seriously and do their level best to adhere to OSHA rules and regulations. But like any profession, we all make an occasional mistake or misstep. For me, that might be spelling a name wrong or making a grammatical error; both unacceptable. But the stakes are higher for installers and their hardworking crews. One mistake can lead to serious injury or loss of life. And that’s why the OSHA rules exist, to ensure that you and your crew make it home safely to your families every night.

So please understand if I point out a violation in a photo we take on one of your jobs. I have to hold you to a high standard of safety and I hope you all check each other the same way. If you see another crew violating a safety rule, please speak up. And if someone questions your safety practices, thank them and correct the issue. After all, the community of installers are one big family and we should be looking out for each other.

Stay safe. And I mean that. 


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.