Construction companies and medical patients have something in common. A doctor entered an exam room to discuss with a patient the results of tests on his kidneys. “Your kidneys are fine,” he said. “However, if we run enough tests we’re going to find something, somewhere, and we may have found a different problem.” That test turned out negative as well, but the process is descriptive of what construction companies deal with when engaged with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA has one job, according to its website description, which is to:
“assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”
News releases from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) detailing enforcement actions taken against construction companies and other businesses are meant to warn companies away from violating health and safety laws and regulations. In August, OSHA put 48 enforcement action news releases on its website, with four more appearing just on September 1. Here is a sampling of construction-related actions:
- North Florida roofing contractor continues to expose workers to dangerous fall hazards; faces $128K in penalties
- Illinois contractor continues callous disregard for employees; exposes roofers to fall hazards for 19th time since 2006
- OSHA cites Florida contractor again for allowing dangerous fall hazards
- Warnings ignored, Dorchester roofing contractor repeatedly exposed employees to life-threatening fall hazards at Haverhill church
- OSHA finds Scranton contractor continues to expose employees to serious, potentially fatal fall hazards at Yardley worksite
- Employees of Schenectady remediation contractor 'needlessly sickened' when their employer exposes them to mercury poisoning
- Roofing company did not provide adequate fall protection to worker who died after 33-foot fall at Watertown Community Center
For OSHA, it’s something of a target-rich environment. The laws and regulations governing construction and construction contractors are, in a word, monumental (to demonstrate, a list of laws and regulations under which OSHA operates is found at the end of this blog article). Plus, construction is perceived as big, big, business. According to OSHA’s website,
“Nearly 6.5 million people work at approximately 252,000 construction sites across the nation on any given day. The fatal injury rate for the construction industry is higher than the national average in this category for all industries.”
At times OSHA requirements can seem onerous, intrusive, and overbearing. But dangers to workers can be very real and companies that unknowingly – or worse, knowingly - expose workers to danger run the risk of a cascading series of civil and criminal charges and penalties. This was an impetus to the formation in 2010 of the OSHA Severe Violator Enforcement Program to,
“more effectively focus enforcement efforts on recalcitrant employers who demonstrate indifference to the health and safety of their employees through willful, repeated, or failure to abate violations of the OSH Act.”
When a company makes that list, its life is going to be…complicated. OSHA is not solely a punishment agency. Its website has a series of ways to be compliant with laws and rules. The easiest way to locate them is to visit the OSHA website and type “compliance” in the search function.
The Houston Chronicle has published a helpful piece called “How to Get in Compliance with OSHA”. Its major suggestions (summarized below) are:
- Develop a hazard communication plan.
- Develop an emergency action plan standard.
- Create a fire evacuation plan.
- Make sure your workplace has a sufficient number of fire exits and that these exits comply with OSHA and fire department codes.
- Clear floors and walkways of potentially dangerous clutter. Clean spills and slip hazards as soon as they occur. Familiarize yourself with OSHA standards for general workplace conditions, such as hallways, work surfaces, floors and ladders.
- Purchase a well-stocked first aid kit adequate for the particular hazards and accidents you typically encounter in your industry. Train staff members in basic first aid procedures.
- Post OSHA posters and fliers conspicuously. Carefully read any materials OSHA sends regarding updated requirements and guidelines and implement any needed changes.
Demonstrate to OSHA regulators a desire and willingness to be compliant, recognizing that as much as you have done, are doing, and may do, it still may not be enough given the huge number of regulations OSHA enforces. As with physical exams, enough prodding and something questionable will probably turn up. But showing your desire to protect employees could be significant.
Even so, a final step: know a good lawyer who specializes in this area.