Photo: SUMITH NUNKHAM / iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images.
By Zach Pucillo
ith President Biden making a push to double the number of federal OSHA inspectors by 2024, employers must make concerted efforts to keep their job site OSHA compliant.
Fortunately, job sites have been getting safer over the years, down to 15 worker deaths per day in 2019 from 38 a day in 1970. This trend, however, can only continue with consistent efforts to train workers on, and protect them from, OSHA violations on construction sites.
Here are five common violations and preventative measures you can take to keep your workers safe and keep your construction site OSHA compliant.
1. Insufficient fall protection
Insufficient fall protection broadly refers to instances where an employee, six feet or higher, is not protected by a safety system (guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest).
Regulation 29 CFR 1926.501
When workers are at heights of six feet or more, near openings or edges, they must be protected from falling. Failure to do so results in an OSHA violation and potential catastrophic harm to the worker.
Insufficient fall protection is the most common and number one most cited OSHA violation, largely because workers are frequently exposed to heights when working on rooftops, scaffolding, or the openings of buildings.
How to avoid the violation
Here are three common safety systems that you can put in place to protect your employees and avoid an edge guard-related OSHA violation:
Guardrail Systems: These are barriers that are placed along an unprotected or exposed side or edge of a walking-working surface to prevent workers from falling to a lower level or to the ground. According to OSHA guidelines, guardrail systems must also be “smooth-surfaced” to protect employees from punctures, lacerations, or any snagging of clothing.
Personal Fall Arrest Systems: These systems stop a fall before a worker reaches a lower level. These systems commonly include a body harness, a form of anchorage, a connector, and some combination of a lanyard, deceleration device, or lifeline.
Travel Restraint Systems: This restraint system is like a tether for the employee. The system has the employee use a five-point harness where the d-ring is attached to a lanyard, and the lanyard is attached to an anchor point. This allows the employee to travel along the anchor point but does not let them step near a leading edge. Common anchor points for travel restraint systems include lifeline wires and rail trolleys.
Outside of simply finding a solution, you must inspect the solution. Make sure to test any edge guard system for weight capacity and ensure that it fulfills OSHA code. For example, anchor points must have a minimum strength of 5,000 pounds or be capable of supporting the load with a safety factor of 2 – meaning the ratio of the design load compared to the ultimate strength of the material.
Additionally, if one form of fall protection is unfeasible, make sure to find an alternate solution. For example, if your job requires a hoisting operation that would remove guardrails, protect employees by installing a personal fall arrest system.
2. Unstable or unavailable scaffolding
Scaffolds are temporary structures meant for people to work in elevated or inaccessible areas off the ground. Sixty-five percent of construction projects involve scaffolds, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and scaffolding violations are common but preventable.
Regulation 29 CFR 1926.451
The failure to implement a compliant scaffold places workers at a greater risk of injury and violates OSHA regulations.
OSHA regulations additionally state that a “competent person” must be on hand to a) determine whether scaffolds are safe to use, b) direct others in erecting and dismantling scaffolds, and c) conduct training and inspections.
How to avoid the violation
There are three common types of scaffolds used on construction sites. Using any one of these scaffolds with the presence of a “competent person” may prevent violations specific to unavailable or unstable scaffolding:
Supported Scaffolds: These are comprised of one or more platforms that are supported by rigid structural elements like beams, poles, or legs.
Suspended Scaffolds: These scaffolds operate similarly to supported scaffolds but are raised by non-rigid elements like ropes or wires.
Aerial Lifts: Devices that elevate from vehicles, including aerial ladders, boom platforms, and scissors lifts.
Another key element of scaffolding violations is the lack of a “competent person,” which OSHA defines as one who is “capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions, which are unsanitary, hazardous to employees, and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”
As with edge guarding, it is important to test your systems for weight. In many cases, your scaffolding systems must be capable of holding 400 percent of the intended load. There’s no use in purchasing a scaffolding system that can’t support enough weight for a particular job.
3. Faulty or unsupportive ladders
The standard for ladders is the third most cited OSHA violation for the construction industry. While ladders, like scaffolds, are often an essential piece of equipment on construction sites, this doesn’t mean that violations should occur as often as they do.
Ladders must be capable of supporting loads without failure. A failure may result in injury or death and may constitute an OSHA violation.
How to avoid the violation
One key way to avoid this violation is to replace unstable ladders and test them during construction site inspections. This can prevent any injuries from occurring while also preventing an OSHA violation for failing to inspect your site.
Specifically, you should ensure all ladders at your construction site are OSHA-compliant by checking the rungs, steps, and cleats for the appropriate distance. To find the needed weight supports and rung distances for the ladders on your site, visit the OSHA website.
4. Failure to provide fall hazard training
Many OSHA violations can be attributed to a lack of knowledge. This lack of knowledge stems from inadequate or, in some cases, no training. OSHA understands this and it’s why training is mandated for employees on construction sites.
Regulation 29 CFR 1926.503(a)(1)
Employers must provide a training program for each employee who might be exposed to fall hazards. If an employer neglects to do this, it may result in an OSHA violation.
Important to note, falls are the leading cause of death in construction. An effective training program is not just a box to check before starting a job. It can save lives.
How to avoid the violation
If you have not already, create a structured training program for workers to understand the hazards of falling. Remember, you can have all the resources with the safest equipment, but training employees effectively will be another step in the direction of preventing a tragedy.
If you assume that employees know how to don fall arrest equipment and set it up properly, you may find your employees wearing harnesses backwards and tying off to inadequate anchor points.
While many construction workers are contractors, it’s important that you check what training programs your contractors have participated in and supplement as necessary. In order to foster a safe environment, you must prioritize effective training programs.
5. The general duty clause
Construction site inspections are a key duty for managers or supervisors. Failing to routinely inspect equipment and the surrounding construction site may result in injury, death, and a flurry of different OSHA violations. Any unsafe working condition can become cause for a citation, even if it is not specifically cited in the code of federal regulations.
Regulation OSH Act Section 5(a)(1)
The OSHA General Duty Clause: states that each employer shall furnish to each of its employees a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
Take note that this regulation has no industry assignment coding (1910 or 1926). This regulation applies to all places of employment regardless of industry. General duty clause violations are typically in plain sight. Common general duty clause violations include:
• Employee behaviors (horseplay)
• Unsafe modification of equipment
• Transporting equipment in an unsafe manner
• Seat belts not being used on powered industrial trucks
• Driving while talking on cell phones
How to avoid the violation
Create a regimented inspection plan (daily, weekly, and monthly) to inspect job sites for any and all recognized hazards. While seemingly simple, this sort of structure fosters a culture of safety and demonstrates to employees that you value their safety.
Creating worksite policies and holding employees accountable through disciplinary action when in violation of those policies will also go a long way in establishing a habitual safe mindset. On the other hand, make sure to acknowledge and potentially reward observed safe behaviors. Positive reinforcement will drive the safety initiative while keeping morale at a high level.
In short, inspections save workers’ lives. A structured plan, policies, and procedures can go a long way in preventing OSHA violations on your construction site.
Protect your workers and your company by eliminating unknowns
The easiest way to protect your workers and your company is by creating and sustaining training programs. You do not want a workforce whose only answer to questions about safety regulation is “I don’t know.” Eliminate unknowns with structured and focused training programs.
A culture of safety is built from the top down, and it’s up to leadership to communicate that the importance of finishing a project on time does not outweigh the importance of keeping your workers safe.
Nearly half of America’s most dangerous jobs are in construction. While some danger is not preventable, structured training and an understanding of OSHA regulations can help mitigate the risk of injuries or fatalities on the job.
Zach Pucillo, CSP, CHMM, is a team supervisor at KPA, an EHS and workforce compliance software and services provider for midsize businesses. KPA solutions help clients identify, remedy, and prevent workplace safety and compliance problems across their entire enterprise. The combination of KPA’s Vera Suite platform, EHS consulting services, and award-winning training content helps organizations minimize risk so they can focus on what’s important: their core business. For over 30 years, KPA has helped more than 10,000 clients achieve regulatory compliance, protect assets, and retain top talent.