The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a sect of the United States Department of Labor (DOL) focused on enforcing a wide array of rules and regulations designed to improve safety in the workplace. Before OSHA was established, there was little oversight to ensure that workers weren’t being exposed to unsafe working conditions, resulting in many work-related injuries and fatalities.
Today, OSHA is an organization dedicated to balancing the playing field for employers and employees. They are responsible for overseeing the majority of private sector workplaces and select public sector businesses. Their authority stretches across all fifty states and several territories, including the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Johnston Island, Wake Island, and the Outer Continental Shelf.
For the most part, their oversight has brought about positive changes to the industry, but this has often come at the expense of contractors. OSHA’s complex rules and regulations can be difficult to keep up with, which is where the services of an OSHA attorney comes into play.
When you work alongside our OSHA defense attorneys, you will benefit from top-tier OSHA defense against citations and complaints. We’ve successfully defended contractors against serious, repeat, and willful violations, and can even provide third-party site audit services to help you avoid future run-ins with OSHA.
In this editorial, an OSHA defense attorney from Cotney Construction Law will discuss a myriad of important OSHA facts that all contractors should know. OSHA can appear at any time without prior notice to perform an inspection, so it’s imperative that you are prepared at all times to avoid a costly citation.
How Effective Is OSHA?
It’s not hard to gauge OSHA’s overall effectiveness since its formation in 1970. Back then, an average of 38 workers died on the job each and every day. As of 2017, this number has decreased to an average of about 14 deaths per day according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While there is still substantial work to be done before we create a completely fatality-free workforce, this drastic dip in worker fatalities is indicative of a concentrated effort by OSHA to curb unsafe workplace practices. OSHA can be a frustrating entity to deal with, but in the grand scheme of things, they are an important organization whose ultimate goal aligns closely with the needs of contractors — a full, healthy workforce that can help reduce operational costs, speed up project delivery, and grow the industry. Of course, when you do butt heads with OSHA, our OSHA defense lawyers are standing by to assist you.
The Rationale for Inspections
Contractors that understand what OSHA is looking for when they come to inspect a project site can avoid the lion’s share of citations. In 2017, OSHA performed 32,408 inspections, but roughly 90 percent of these inspections were triggered by one of only three reasons.
- Approximately 25 percent of inspections were the result of a complaint or reported accident. In other words, OSHA, despite having the ability to perform unscheduled inspections, tends to take a reactive approach. If your project site is safe, and no injuries or fatalities take place, you’re less likely to be visited by OSHA.
- Approximately 44 percent of inspections target businesses in high-risk industries. As you know, safety and health issues plague the construction industry. Therefore, contractors should expect an inspection at some point, regardless of how safe their project sites are.
- Approximately 20 percent of inspections are the result of referrals or follow-ups. Typically, upon completion of an inspection, OSHA will provide the employer with a list of improvements that must be implemented to avoid future citations. OSHA will return to this project site at a later date to verify compliance.
Top Ten OSHA Violations in 2019
OSHA is already compiling data for fiscal year 2019, including the top ten most frequently violated OSHA standards. These hazards stretch across multiple industries, so we’ll be focusing on those most relevant to construction workers. Contractors should commit these violations to memory and work diligently to prevent them from occurring on their project sites. If you have violated any of the following standards, consult an OSHA lawyer.
- Fall Protection Violations (Construction Industry)
- Hazard Communication Standards (General Industry)
- Scaffolding (Construction Industry)
- Respiratory Protection (General Industry)
- Control of Hazardous Energy (General Industry)
- Ladders (Construction Industry)
- Powered Industrial Trucks (General Industry)
- Training Requirements for Fall Protection (Construction Industry)
- Machine Guarding (General Industry)
- Eye and Face Protection (General Industry)
As you can see, four of the ten top violations are directly related to the construction industry, but there’s actually more to it than that. General industry, a vague term utilized by OSHA to describe businesses that are static in nature, can describe an array of industries; hence, certain aspects of construction projects can fall under the category of general industry. For example, certain day-to-day operations that don’t involve building, erecting, alternating, or repairing a structure can all be classified under general industry. Therefore, violations pertaining to hazard communication standards, respiratory protection, control of hazardous energy, powered industrial trucks, machine guarding, and eye and face protection can also be traced back to the construction industry depending on the particulars of a project.
OSHA’s “Fatal Four”
Since the construction industry experiences more fatalities than any other industry, OSHA has identified the four most common causes of death on the project site. The “Fatal Four” is responsible for more than half of all construction-related fatalities. OSHA notes that if all four hazards could be eliminated, it would save hundreds of lives annually. The “Fatal Four” includes;
- Falls: falls are the most common cause of death in the construction industry, accounting for hundreds of deaths annually. Falling off a ladder, roof, or scaffolding can lead to serious injury or death. All workers should be outfitted with the proper fall protection and utilize a fall arrest system to avoid accidents. Educating your workers about the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) can also help reduce any safety oversight taking place on the project site.
- Electrocutions: electrocutions are another leading cause of death in the construction industry. Workers are frequently asked to work in close proximity to high voltage equipment, including replacing or installing wiring. With the proper PPE, you can greatly reduce the chance of your workers falling victim to electrocution.
- Struck by Object: when an object falls from a height and strikes an employee, it can result in serious injury or death. This can be avoided with proper usage of hard hats and effective training on the risk of falling objects.
- Caught In/Between: becoming caught-in or compressed by heavy machinery can also lead to death. There are many ways for this to happen. An employee could become stuck on an object or crushed by a collapsing structure. Avoiding caught in-between hazards requires constant diligence on the part of workers on all levels.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.