In response to concerns voiced by Senate appropriators that the Capitol Visitor Center is among the “most dangerous worksites” in the region, Centex Construction officials are defending their safety record.
In a June 3 letter addressed to both House and Senate lawmakers, the firm’s top Washington, D.C., official asserts that inaccuracies in a Government Accountability Office analysis resulted in a bleaker depiction of accidents and other incidents that occurred during the project’s initial phase.
According to Centex Division President and Chief Executive Officer John Tarpey, although GAO reported accurate incident rates for the visitor center project, the agency compared those figures to national averages that did not correlate to the type of work being performed.
“The whole issue was really more a matter of miscommunication than a safety issue,” Tarpey said in an interview Monday.
He said that while work Centex performed in the initial phase of the project focused on excavation and structural work — such as the construction of the exterior walls for the 580,000-square-foot subterranean facility — GAO’s analysis used data that included accident rates for “finish trades,” which are typically lower than rates related to structural work.
At a May hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch held to review progress on the visitor center, Comptroller General David Walker testified that the GAO analysis showed the CVC’s injury and illness rate for 2003 — 9.1 incidents per 100 workers — exceeded the national average for comparable construction sites by approximately 50 percent.
In response to that analysis, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the panel’s ranking member, questioned the project’s safety, stating: “This appears to be one of the most dangerous worksites in Washington.”
But Tarpey contends that GAO should have compared the visitor center incident rate for work performed by foundation, concrete and structural steel workers, a figure that is 57 percent higher than the statistics used in the analysis.
According to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, those figures include an incident rate of approximately 9.4 incidents per 100 workers, nearly identical to the record reported by Centex.
Additionally, Tarpey writes that the “severity of injuries” that occurred on the CVC site “was far less than those normally anticipated for the scope of the work included” in the contract.
“Twelve of the 19 lost time injuries resulted from muscle/ligament strains or minor cuts or contusions to individuals while they were performing normal job functions,” Tarpey wrote, noting that 40 percent of all incidents results from muscle/ligament strains or “insect bites.”
A GAO spokesman did not return a telephone call Monday seeking comment.
In his letter, Tarpey also refuted charges that Centex had inaccurately reported incidents to the Gilbane Building Company, a construction management firm overseeing the project that is also responsible for monthly safety reports.
“The reporting performed by Centex throughout the duration of our contract was comprehensive and timely,” the letter states. “Furthermore, we routinely met with Gilbane to review job site safety and participated in regular site inspections with their Corporate Safety professionals.”
An aide to Durbin said the Illinois Senator plans to raise the issue of construction safety during today’s hearing.
Tarpey said Monday, however, that he had not been asked to attend the hearing.
Although Centex officials met with GAO to discuss the discrepancies following the May Senate hearing, Tarpey said he has not received a response from lawmakers.
“We just wanted to submit something for the record,” he said.
According to Congressional officials, the majority of work now being conducted at the visitor center site is under the control of the Manhattan Construction Co., which is responsible for the second phase of the project: mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; completion of the East Front Plaza; and buildout of the interior spaces.