As we settle into 2021, many industries remain in a period of uncertainty that carried over from 2020. In addition to economic concerns, workspaces must navigate the spread of COVID-19. Throughout this trying time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has remained steadfast in its mission “to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.”
Despite often being viewed as the government agency that employers love to hate, OSHA offers numerous innovative and helpful programs. Compliance with OSHA standards for workplace health and safety offers many benefits, from insurance and workers’ compensation cost reductions to employee satisfaction and retention. Simply put, practicing workplace safety as a matter of priority is a competitive advantage in virtually any industry. Keep reading for a brief refresher in OSHA basics, as well as new pandemic-related regulations.
SO, WHAT’S NEW?
The U.S. Department of Labor has announced adjustments to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) civil penalty amounts based on cost-of-living adjustments for 2021. In summary, OSHA’s maximum penalties for serious and other-than-serious violations will increase from $13,494 per violation to $13,653 per violation. The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations will increase from $134,937 per violation to $136,532 per violation.
THE 10 MOST FREQUENTLY CITED OSHA VIOLATIONS
According to the most recent data, covering the fiscal year 2019 (October 1, 2018–September 30, 2019), OSHA has highlighted the most common violations.
- Fall Protection
- Hazard Communication Standard
- Scaffolding, general requirements
- Control of Hazardous Energy
- Respiratory Protection
- Powered Industrial Trucks
- Fall Protection–Training Requirements
- Machinery and Machine Guarding
- Eye and Face Protection
HAZARDS SPECIFIC TO THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY
OSHA dedicates an entire section of its website to the construction sector. It serves as an excellent resource for information, tools, and resources to help prevent construction-related hazards for employees and employers alike. Of the Top 10 violations listed above, three directly relate to the construction and restoration industry.
A total of 6,010 fall protection violations were reported in 2019. Any work performed more than six feet off the ground requires the use of a guardrail system or a net. It is also important to ensure a worksite is clear of holes, pits, trenches, wells, and open skylights. Fall protection also includes items falling from above, so workers should always wear hard hats and canopies should be erected. Detailed fall protection training guidelines can be accessed directly from the OSHA website.
In 2019, OSHA reported 2,813 scaffolding violations. Some of the most common hazards include loads that exceed the maximum weight capacity allowed on scaffolding, platforms cluttered with construction debris, a lack of guardrails, and improper materials used as counterweights. OSHA’s Guide to Scaffold Use in the Construction Industry offers 73 pages of helpful information. OSHA requires that scaffolding training be provided for all workers and proof of completion is almost guaranteed to be requested if an inspector drops by the jobsite.
OSHA received 2,345 reports of violations regarding ladders. Ladder-related injuries are often easily avoidable. As with scaffolding, never haul items on a ladder that exceed the load limit. Ladders should always be level, on a dry surface, and free of any visible issues such as missing or defective rungs. A person should always face the ladder when ascending and descending. Read more about ladder-usage guidelines on the OSHA website, here.
OTHER POTENTIAL CONSTRUCTION-RELATED HAZARDS
Although OSHA’s Top 10 list is a useful summary of common hazards, it certainly isn’t all-encompassing. Mold, lead, and asbestos are commonly encountered in demolition, reconstruction, and restoration projects.
While there aren’t federal standards regarding airborne mold and mold spores, OSHA has provided an extensive guide for preventing and eliminating mold. Moisture control is the key to mold prevention. When water leaks occur, act quickly. Any initial water infiltration should be stopped and cleaned promptly. A hasty response (within 24 to 48 hours) and thorough clean-up, drying, and/or removal of water-damaged materials will prevent mold growth.
If absorbed into the body, lead can be toxic, even leading to death. It most commonly enters the body through inhalation or ingestion. Lead is used frequently for roofs, cornices, tank linings, electrical conduits, and plumbing. There are dozens of ways to reduce workers’ exposure to lead, as laid out in detail in the appropriately titled document, Lead in Construction.
Individual asbestos fibers cannot be seen by the naked eye, which puts workers at an increased risk if inhaled or ingested. A worker might encounter asbestos in thermal system insulation, roofing and siding shingles, vinyl floor tiles, plaster, cement, putties, and caulk; and ceiling tiles and spray-on coating installed before 1981. OSHA provides a detailed guide on asbestos, as well as a quick-read overview of the dangerous substance.
SO HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO COVID?
OSHA has issued citations arising from 255 inspections for violations relating to COVID-19 between the start of the coronavirus pandemic and November 26, 2020. These citations resulted in proposed penalties totaling $3,403,139.
These violations include failures to:
- Implement a written respiratory protection program
- Provide a medical evaluation, respirator fit test, training on the proper use of a respirator, and personal protective equipment
- Report an injury, illness, or fatality
- Record an injury or illness on OSHA recordkeeping forms
- Comply with the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970
DON’T GET OVERWHELMED
Navigating the numerous OSHA regulations and hundreds of pages of documentation associated with nearly every possible violation is often overwhelming. Therefore, depending on the scope of the project you are overseeing, hiring an OSHA consultant might be a prudent step.