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OSHA investigates courthouse

After Pike County employees working in the courthouse aired concerns about dust, noise and debris in their working spaces, inspectors from Occupational Health and Safety Administration visited the courthouse Aug. 29. According to county manager Mike Phillips attempts were made to resolve issues raised by courthouse employees and no violations were filed against Pike. Courthouse construction is continuing at a swift pace but dust raised from sheetrock, masonry and carpentry work is starting to affect employees who occupy the building. The Zebulon courthouse project and a few employees were featured on CBS Atlanta News’ Tough Questions segment last week. The TV news crew filmed construction workers all around the courthouse ‘“ in the addition and in the original building ‘“ then asked the new county manager questions about the health concerns of employees. County manager Mike Phillips told the Journal Reporter Thursday that construction crews had been instructed to clean up more often so dust does not build up and to be more watchful about blocking the handicap ramp entering the building. He said the project could be complete as early as December but until then special measures will be taken. ’Construction crews are really going to make an effort to reduce the amount of dust and while they occasionally have to block the handicap ramp, they’ll make a point of getting it back open as soon as possible,’ Phillips said. ‘I want courthouse employees to know we’re trying to do the best we can to provide a safe working environment. If they want to wear a mask at work, that’s fine ‘“ anything they can do to protect their health. We’ll try to minimize the amount of dust in the air.’ Construction has been ongoing since the project started in late February with the demolition of many upstairs walls. Asbestos was found in some flooring tiles but they were sealed and covered to prevent the expense of removing them and minimize the risk of releasing any dangerous particles into the air. Workers say the air quality issue has fluctuated over the past six months but recently became worse when doorways were cut from the original courthouse to the addition. ’It’s gotten much worse in our office recently,’ said Sandy Caldwell of the tax commissioners’ office. ‘They had to cut through the vault to put in a doorway this week and last week. It was pretty rough putting up with the dust and the smell. It would have been nice to be moved out of here so we wouldn’t have to deal with all the noise, the dust and the bad smells.’ The vault in the Superior Court Clerk’s office now has two full size doorways that lead into the addition where sheetrock work and carpentry work is ongoing, causing sawdust and other particles to fill the air. Architect Ben Carter of Carter Watkins Associates Architects said he knows of three similar construction and renovation projects in Putnam County, Jasper County and currently in Wilkes County where employees stayed in the original building during the project. He said noise is usually a bigger problem than dust at such work sites and dust barriers should always be in place. ’Now that this has been brought to the contractor’s attention, I’ve been assured great attention will be paid to barriers between new construction and they’ll be made airtight,’ Carter said. ‘The decision was made for the offices to remain in the courthouse during construction, which is a common practice in county, city and state buildings ‘“ especially those offices with lots of public traffic and record rooms.’ The courthouse is home to several county offices, the probate judge’s office, the tax commissioners office, the registrar’s office and Superior Court Clerk’s offices. The addition will provide more space for those offices, more courtroom space and more vault space to store records as required by law. In mid-September, several rooms in the courthouse’s addition will be completed and some of the offices from the original courthouse will be moved to the addition. Renovation on those offices will start after that. Phillips said Pike chose not to move the employees. ’I think they were doing the best they could,’ he said. ‘We don’t have a whole lot of extra places to move these offices where the public will know where to find them,’ he said. ‘People are used to coming to the courthouse to find these offices.’

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