WITH THOUSANDS OF ROOFS TO REPLACE, foundations to pour, and windows to set, worker safety may be the last thing on the minds of Florida builders and subcontractors. But it shouldn't be. Before the hurricanes struck this fall, the state had racked up 37 worker deaths—a high figure, considering the total number of construction-related deaths nationally averages about 1,000 per year. Afew states, such as Ohio, have an even worse record, typically with about 100 deaths per year. But Florida has been in OSHA's “to do” spotlight lately.

Just before the September hurricanes, OSHA began a systematic crackdown on Florida jobsites. But even during that push, five more men died in construction mishaps in South Florida.

The state had been making modest improvements in the number of fatalities over the last couple of years. For example, OSHA reported 43 construction deaths between October 2001 and May 2002—more than half of those involving falls.

Penalties for safety violations are not unknown—nor are they cheap. In 2002, for instance, OSHA fined a New Smyrna developer almost $80,000 for two safety violations involving a lack of fall-protection equipment.

Al Belsky, a spokesperson for OSHA in Washington, notes that the combination of rapid housing growth and large numbers of non–English-speaking workers has made Florida more accident-prone. Right now, he says, OSHA is stretched thin in Florida due to the spate of hurricanes. “We have 43 people to cover the whole hurricane-affected area, including Florida,” Belsky adds. “They are providing advisory services not just on construction but on cleanup and debris. With regard to construction, they're spotting and intervening where they see safety risks but not issuing citations at this point.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.