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Sycamore roofer vows to fight $120K in OSHA fines

SYCAMORE – A Sycamore roofing company owner facing more than $120,000 in proposed penalties for safety violations by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration says he plans to fight the fines.

OSHA’s Aurora Area Office started an investigation of Tip Top Roofing & Construction in Sycamore in November after receiving a complaint that workers were exposed to fall hazards at a residential job site in DeKalb, according to a news release from OSHA.

“I will be contesting it,” said Kapu Aluli, owner of Tip Top Roofing & Construction in Sycamore. “It wasn’t even our employees. It was related to a subcontractor.”

Aluli said the subcontractor told him that his company would handle the issue, but never did. Aluli declined to name the subcontractor.

OSHA issued two willful and four serious violations to Tip Top Roofing & Construction for exposing workers to falls and other hazards while re-roofing an existing residence. The two willful violations cite the company for “exposing workers to fall hazards of about 22 feet because the company failed to provide fall protection” and “failing to extend a ladder at least three feet above the landing to provide safe roof access,” the release said.

The four serious violations were for allowing employees to work near power lines, lack of personal protective equipment and allowing employees to carry loads of plywood and other roofing materials while climbing ladders, OSHA said.

“A roofer can fall to his death in mere seconds. By refusing to provide fall protection to its workers, Tip Top Roofing and Construction is gambling with workers’ lives and livelihood – and that is unacceptable,” Jacob Scott, OSHA’s area director in Aurora, said in a statement. “With everything we know about how to work safely, it’s troubling to see how many workers are still injured every year in the construction trades, and particularly from falls.”

Tip Top Roofing & Construction has been cited multiple times since 2008 for fall safety violations. The most recent citations were issued in 2013.

Aluli said competing roofing companies in the area had started an “OSHA war” where companies report violations by their competitors to regulators to drive them out of business.

“We thought [the roofers] were wearing harnesses,” he said. “We’ve already ramped up our safety program big-time.”

The proposed penalties could be lowered or even dismissed, pending the outcome of any contest. If OSHA and Aluli can’t work out a deal at an informal hearing, the matter would go before an administrative judge, OSHA spokesman Scott Allen said.

Allen said there’s no conspiracy to drive contractors out of business.

“Our main objective is to abate the issues as quickly as possible to protect the safety of workers,” he said. “We’d rather [companies] use the money to buy safety equipment than to pay fines.”

When Tip Top Roofing & Construction was given proposed fines of $103,000 in 2003, Aluli said he contested the penalties, which were reduced to $67,000. But the fines, and publicity, have hurt his business, which had about $4.5 million in revenue last year.

“This has had a massive impact on my company,” Aluli said. “l’ve lost a lot of business because of it.”

Aluli said very few contractors are fully compliant with OSHA regulations and that he’s “had no choice but to stoop to our competitors’ level and call in violations we see.”

“It don’t know what we’re going to do as a company,” he said. “It’s made it very difficult to do work anymore.”

Allen said the bottom line is that “it’s unacceptable.”

According to OSHA, falls, slips, or trips killed 699 workers in 2013. Falls to a lower level accounted for 574 of those fatalities.

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