Since the early twentieth century, the United States has had a massive building boom, both for residential homes and commercial properties.
This increase in property value and material goods can be seen as beneficial to America’s overall economy and has permitted property ownership to become one of the safest and most reliable investments available. However, the benefits of this thriving building economy have also collaterally brought upon an unfortunate variable—a dramatic rise in construction injuries.
According to 2006 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a strong confirmation that the construction industry remains the most hazardous work environment. For instance, work labor in construction accounted for 1,226 fatal work injuries, the most of any other industry in America (National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2006, August 2007).
OSHA Inspection Policy for the Construction Industry
What does this mean for the construction business owner? Construction jobsites are inspected more than any other workplace. In 2006, these jobsites accounted for 59.3 percent of the total OSHA inspections conducted in the United States (Guidance to Compliance Officers for Focused Inspections in the Construction Industry, August 1994).
Inspections are a typical fashion in which OSHA enforces safety regulations that should reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on jobsites. Most contractors are familiar with the stereotypical OSHA inspection scenario: The inspector comes and contractors run.
In an effort to focus attention on the leading hazards that account for the most fatalities and serious injuries in the construction industry, OSHA is encouraging focused inspections on construction sites as opposed to the more time-consuming comprehensive inspections. Not only will these focused inspections minimize the amount of time that a Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) spends inspecting non-serious hazards on a jobsite, but the policies will also place a stronger emphasis on the hazards that are creating the most risk to construction workers.
Under the Focused Inspection Policy, the CSHO is instructed to determine if the jobsite qualifies for a focused inspection. They are able to proceed with a focused inspection if the following criteria are met:
- There is an adequate safety and health program/plan being implemented.
- There is a designated competent person responsible for and capable of implementing the program/plan.
Primary Hazards in Construction Identified by OSHA
A focused inspection concentrates the CSHO’s attention to the four leading hazards that account for the most fatalities and serious injuries in the construction industry:
- Electrical hazards
- Caught in-between hazards (such as trenching)
- "Struck-by" hazards (such as materials handling equipment and construction vehicles)
During the course of a focused inspection, citations shall be proposed for the four leading hazards and any other serious hazards observed.
The four primary hazards in construction account for 90 percent of all construction fatalities.
More detailed information on how to identify and correct these four hazards on your jobsite can be found, in English and Spanish, on the OSHA website at www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/construction/index.html.
Local Emphasis Programs
Other enforcement strategies are in place to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on jobsites. Among these strategies is what OSHA refers to as Local Emphasis Programs (LEPs). LEPs are established guidelines to address areas that need more attention and are implemented at the regional and state OSHA offices. Regions determine how they wish to enforce compliance and increase awareness of these hazards. In addition, LEPs include specific instruction for CSHOs to increase enforcement at workplaces with even more inspections, leading local offices to, in turn, increase public outreach training to workforces as well.
All regions recognize that fall hazards are prevalent on jobsites and require attention. Falls account for one-third of deaths and are the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. OSHA identifies that an employee exposed to fall hazards would be considered an imminent danger; therefore, inspection criterion requires the CSHO to enforce fall protection regulations on construction sites with immediate assistance.
Due to the more recent frequencies of illnesses associated with Portland cement and chromium exposures, a directive has been released nationally that requires CSHOs to follow strict inspection procedures when these exposures are present on the construction site. They will be looking for appropriate personal protective equipment, washing facilities and certified employee training. Additionally, trenching has been identified nationwide as a high risk operation on construction sites. Under this directive, compliance personnel are instructed to report every trenching or excavation operation regardless of whether a violation is observed. If the trench is over five feet in depth and has not been inspected in the last thirty days, it is likely that an inspection would be required. For a complete list of special emphasis programs for each region, visit www.osha.gov.
Reasons for an OSHA Inspection
An OSHA inspection can result from one of the following conditions:
- Imminent danger—Imminent danger situations are a CSHO’s first priority. Reports of imminent danger or a CSHO witnessing a construction worker exposed to imminent danger will be inspected first in the effort to save lives.
- Fatalities or catastrophes—A fatality in the workplace must be reported to OSHA immediately. A catastrophe, three or more employees seeking medical attention, must be reported to OSHA within eight hours of occurrence and will always result in an investigation.
- Programmed inspection—A programmed inspection is one that is scheduled from national reports, such as Dun and Bradstreet.
- Complaints or referrals—Complaints or referrals are usually called into the OSHA office by an anonymous source. When the OSHA office is alerted to an imminent danger situation by a newspaper picture or television news report, a media referral inspection may result.
- Special emphasis—National, regional and local emphasis programs are established to create enforcement procedures and public awareness in areas that OSHA has recognized substantial increases in fatalities and injuries. As with the national emphasis on trenching and excavation, CSHOs are instructed to investigate every trench that meets designated criteria.
- Voluntary—When a company elects to participate in the Voluntary Protection Program, OSHA inspections are scheduled in compliance with the program.
Prepare for an OSHA Inspection
In order to maintain these OSHA procedures and decrease the chances of construction injuries, a construction business owner should plan for the potential OSHA inspection. The company should have written instructions that employees follow in the event of an OSHA inspection and should be updated on the past and current building regulations for jobsites. This preventive knowledge for the employees could also make a difference during the inspection. For example, an ignorant employee could, unknowingly, create a negative environment resulting in a nightmare inspection and costly citations.
Prepare written programs and a “compliance kit” that contains a disposable camera, notepad and maybe some aspirin. These should be readily available so that the employee walking the jobsite during the inspection can take pictures of what the inspector is taking pictures of and take notes of what the inspector is writing down. All of this information could be extremely helpful if your company wishes to request an informal conference to discuss any violations that are cited during the inspection.
Most importantly, a respectful and concerned attitude during an OSHA inspection can go a long way. If you haven’t already identified who in your company would best represent you during an inspection, I am certain you have identified who would not.
Overall, there is still a need for improvements in construction safety and health. Construction workers take unnecessary risks each day and owners spend unnecessary time trying to “beat the system” and take shortcuts in safety. Employers who commit to implementing an effective safety program and employees who follow OSHA safety regulations should feel confident that they will not be a statistic.
Guidance to Compliance Officers for Focused Inspections in the Construction Industry. Standard Interpretations, August 1994.
USDL 07-1202: National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2006, August 2007. Retrieved from www.OSHA.gov
CPL 02-00-069 - CPL 2.69: Special Emphasis: Trenching and Excavation Directives
Construction Business Owner, December 2007