From: Construction Executive, Authored by: Stephen E. Irving Dated: October 31, 2022
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is having an active year, perhaps emboldened by an administration increasingly engaged in its long-term institutional goals. Much of the discussion this past year has focused on the agency’s efforts to address the hazards of heat injury and illness on the job.
However, contractors are well advised that the agency continues to focus on a broad array of matters that should be of continuing concern in the construction industry. Notably, OSHA continues to point to the construction industry as accounting for more than half of all OSHA citations.
Fatalities remain high, with a total of 1,008 fatalities in construction work in 2020, the latest year with complete Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The actual breakdown of the most common causes of fatalities on construction sites in 2020 was:
- Falls to lower level: 351 (34.8%);
- Struck-by object: 153 (15.2%);
- Electrocutions: 53 (5.2%); and
- Caught-in/between: 28 (2.7%).
The most common violations found by OSHA on construction sites in 2022 include the following.
The detailed statistics show that the findings of violations remain remarkably consistent on the whole.
OSHA has widely publicized that there were 22 excavation-related fatalities in the first six months of this year. Three of the seven largest penalties issued by OSHA this year were for trenching violations. There were a number of additional fatalities that month. Media reports in the months since indicate that the trend of excavation injuries has continued apace. A review of recent excavation citations shows the most commonly cited violations relate to the excavation standard. Failing to protect a trench from collapse is cited in approximately two-thirds of all excavation OSHA matters, while failure to provide proper ingress and egress, placing spoils too close to a trench, failure to provide daily inspections and failure of the “designated competent person” are also very common citations. OSHA continues to emphasize trenching safety through its National Emphasis Program, which has been in place since 2018.
Violations of the fall protection standard (29 CFR §§ 1926.501-503) remain the most common citations. These violations account for approximately 25% of all citations and three times the number of any other group of violations. They also constitute an overwhelming number of the repeat and willful citations issued by the agency and four of the largest seven penalties issued so far this year. To address fall protection hazards (and thus OSHA citations), contractors need to have a sufficient training program and ensure that workers are trained to understand and avoid the hazards of a fall. Moreover, contractors should take steps to:
- cover floor holes;
- provide guardrails and toe boards around open-sided platforms; and
- provide safety harnesses, nets and railings.
The new arrival of aerial lifts on the list is bound to draw additional emphasis from OSHA going forward. OSHA has noted that aerial lifts—such as extendable boom platforms, aerial ladders, articulating (jointed) boom platforms, and vertical towers—have replaced ladders and scaffolding on many jobsites due to their mobility and flexibility.
OSHA guidance emphasizes training, worker awareness of potential hazards, and inspections of jobsites to avoid workplace incidents. OSHA has further stressed fall protection, proper equipment operation, work zone stability and overhead protection in operating aerial lifts. Perhaps more than most construction standards, the regulations require employers to evaluate and understand the unique hazards of their particular workplace and address them in policy and training.
Going forward, contractors must remain vigilant of these violation notices issued by a seemingly revitalized agency—and the related causes of fatalities—to best protect their workers, worksites and business operations. Best practices call for instituting programs developed with safety and legal professionals to ensure full OSHA compliance.