COVID-19 AND THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

Here's How You Can Protect Your Business
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What We Can Learn From OSHA’s Largest Fines of Q2 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to crack down on contractors exposing their workers to potentially dangerous work environments. While OSHA may presently be prioritizing COVID-19-related inspections, it’s important to note that this prioritization is accompanied by an increase of in-person inspections altogether. Employers cannot afford to slack on identifying and fixing hazards addressed in the most frequently cited OSHA standards in exchange for preventing workplace exposure to COVID-19.

Even despite the pandemic, OSHA was as active as ever in the second quarter of 2020 in terms of doling out citations and subsequent penalties. In this article, we’ll review the largest OSHA fines of Q2 2020 and what you can do to best protect your jobsite from these threats. If your construction business has been issued an OSHA citation, contact a construction attorney in Wilmington, NC, as soon as possible to potentially reduce or eliminate costly fines. We can also help to compile the necessary documents and represent your construction business during future inspections. 

Related: Legal Defenses for OSHA Citations

Fall Hazards

Of the six largest OSHA fines of Q2 2020, four can be linked back to the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry — fall hazards. In 2018 alone, 338 out of the 1,008 total deaths in the construction industry occurred as a result of a fall. While we can identify falls from heights as a leading cause of these fatalities, any walking or working surface that may cause an employee to lose their balance or support and fall can be considered a fall hazard. To counteract these alarming statistics and reduce exposure to fall hazards in the construction industry, OSHA issued a Local Emphasis Program (LEP) for Fall Hazards in Construction and General Industry in October of 2018. The largest fine of Q2 2020 was issued as a result of inspections that OSHA initiated as part of this emphasis program. 

In the case of the largest fine, a contractor in Ohio is being charged with two willful and two repeat violations totaling $236,642 in proposed fines after OSHA inspectors observed workers on roofs without proper fall protection, workers using ladders improperly, and workers without safety glasses. While the other fall hazard-related citations may not have been issued as a result of the LEP, they addressed similar hazards on worksites in Illinois, Alabama, and Florida, such as failure to provide adequate fall arrest and protection systems, failure to provide adequate training for employees on fall hazards, and improper use of ladders. If a fall incident resulting in the injury or death of a worker occurred on your jobsite, it’s highly recommended that you consult a construction lawyer in Wilmington, NC, for legal expertise. 

Related: The Importance of Fall Protection

Trenching and Excavation Hazards

Two of the six largest OSHA fines of Q2 2020, on the other hand, can be attributed to trenching and excavation hazards. While trench collapses, or cave-ins, pose the greatest risk to workers performing trenching and excavation work, there’s a plethora of other hazards to be aware of, including hazardous atmospheres, accidents involving mobile equipment, and falling loads. When one cubic yard of soil has the capacity to weigh as much as a car, employers should take the necessary precautions to protect workers handling excavation operations. 

A construction firm in Missouri is now facing $224,459 in total proposed fines after being cited with three willful and four serious citation violations. Not only was a worker injured in a trench collapse, but the firm also failed to protect workers from struck-by hazards, allowed workers to ride in the bucket of hydraulic elevators, and had piles of soil placed too close to the edges of the trench. A contractor based in New York is facing a similar stack of violations, four serious and one willful, after violating excavation requirements related to egress from trenches. 

Related: Safe Digging Tips for Excavators 

Defending Against Hazards Like These On Your Jobsite

If you’re concerned that your construction business may soon be tasked with a citation like the ones previously mentioned in this article, it’s time to first consider how you can devote greater resources on your jobsite to reducing and mitigating these hazards. For trenching and excavation, don’t hesitate to familiarize yourself with best practices according to OSHA safety standards, such as inspecting trenches at the start of each shift, keeping excavated materials at least two feet from the edges of the trench, and testing for atmospheric hazards when more than 4 feet deep. OSHA has a wide variety of resources on their site, available in English and Spanish, that you can review and share with workers who should be aware of the hazards associated with trenching and excavation.

For fall protection, you should familiarize yourself with your main responsibilities under OSHA, including ensuring that all working surfaces have the structural integrity and strength necessary to support the weight of workers and providing fall protection where necessary. Additionally, you’re required to provide training programs to any employees who may be exposed to fall hazards on the job. This also goes for retraining if you have any reason to believe that an employee doesn’t have the understanding required to safely perform the job. If your construction business is facing an OSHA citation for any of these hazards, it’s time to seek the counsel of an Asheville contractor attorney with Cotney Construction Law who will examine your case and utilize any number of defenses to get your fine reduced or eliminated entirely. 

If you would like to speak with an Asheville contractor lawyer, please contact us today.

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.