For many contractors, they’re the four most dreaded initials in the alphabet soup of government agencies. OSHA. But who is this agency, and how can they affect your business? In this two-part series, we’ll look at some tips on keeping OSHA away from your jobsite and help stop them from visiting your site. We’ll also show you how to handle the situation if they do show up.
Background and Requirements
Congress created OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in 1970. Their mandate has them setting and enforcing protective workplace safety and health standards. They also provide information and training for employers and workers.
Employers are required, among other things, to follow OSHA health and safety guidelines; find and correct safety hazards; provide information to employees about chemical hazards; provide employees with specific types of personal protective equipment (PPE) at no cost; post certain informational posters; comply with specific OSHA injury notifications, and not discriminate or retaliate against employees who exercise their rights.
Construction Now Watched More Closely
OSHA standards protect workers in all industries, but with limited funding for enforcement—they currently have about 2,200 inspectors nationwide to cover more than 8 million worksites—compliance officers focus their efforts where they’ll do the most good.
After attending a seminar on OSHA compliance, I learned that construction falls into the high-risk category. And I bet just about every contractor reading this can guess why, because you’ve already heard it a million times.
Fall Protection Leads Construction-Related Deaths
Falls accounted for 35% of construction-related deaths last year, and the top three most-cited items, according to this seminar, were:
- Inadequate fall protection
- Unsafe ladder use
- Lack of documented fall protection training
This shift into the high-risk category means that more inspectors get specifically tasked with examining construction sites. They’ve been instructed to drive by job sites and to look for and photograph violations for possible enforcement action.
An OSHA visit is no joke. First and foremost, this is about protecting the health and safety of your workers, and that should always be your overriding concern. But it can also hit you deeply in the wallet and can shut down your job. Don’t think this is only for “the big guys” with the big commercial projects or the huge subdivisions. The inspectors can—and will—drive by and document violations on sites of any size.
Tips on Keeping OSHA Away from Your Jobsite
Want to keep OSHA off your site? It’s not that tough. Here are some simple tips on keeping OSHA away from your jobsite:
- Learn what violations the OSHA inspectors are looking for when they do their drive-bys. Visit www.osha.gov or your state OSHA website to see citation statistics.
- Become an expert in those standards—again, you can download the standards from the websites.
- Enforce them on your jobs.
You’ll have a safer jobsite, better morale, and far less risk of accidents and OSHA visits. It’s a win-win all the way around!
As I mentioned, fall protection is the number one issue for the OSHA inspectors, so you need to take the time to learn and make the effort to enforce all the standards. Included within the fall protection category is, among other things:
- Scaffolding (another of the most frequently-cited items)
- Safety harnesses
- Ladder setup and storage
- Eave-to-ground height requirements
- Roof pitch standards and the use of toeboards
Struck by Object Violations
Next on OSHA’s list of importance is “Struck by Object,” which means more than just wearing a hardhat. Almost every construction site now has nail guns on it, so inspectors are paying close attention to nail gun safety. The OSHA standard reads, in part:
“Safety shoes, which help protect workers’ toes from nail gun injuries, are typically required by OSHA on residential construction sites. In addition, employers should provide, at no cost to employees, the following protective equipment for workers using nail guns:
- Hard hats
- High Impact eye protection—safety glasses or goggles marked ANSI Z87.1
- Hearing protection—either earplugs or earmuffs”
Note: There’s a “should” in that requirement, but I wouldn’t suggest hanging your hat on semantics. Personally, I’d read that as a “must.” Go ahead and provide them.
The third of our tips on keeping OSHA away from your jobsite involves another often-cited area of concern for inspectors. According to the seminar, OSHA called this one “Poor Housekeeping.” That includes tripping and falling hazards, slipping hazards, things that present a cutting or puncture wound hazard, etc. In other words, keep your sites clean.
How Are You Doing?
Once you’ve acquired and reviewed the relevant OSHA standards and understand what they’re looking for, you have one other task, and it’s an important one.
Do your own inspection.
Walk onto your job site, unannounced to your crew, with those standards fresh in your mind. Now ask yourself, “How do I look to the OSHA inspectors? If they stepped onto the site right now, would they find any violations?” If the answer is yes, then work with your crew to eliminate them as quickly as possible, before someone gets hurt. That’s right—the number one resource for keeping OSHA away from your job site is you.
See our article on: What to Do When OSHA Shows Up