When it comes to construction management, site contractors must pay careful attention to employee health and safety guidelines to prevent project delays, workers’ compensation claims and possible government interventions. Since the early 1970s, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been responsible for creating, updating and enforcing industry standards and practices that U.S. employers must abide by. These guidelines are intended to help reduce workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths through both general and specialized standards, which touch on everything from essential safety equipment for land contractors to the proper use of excavation machinery. Failing to comply with OSHA’s standards can result in costly violations and lost business opportunities, which is why construction companies and independent site preparation contractors should stay up to date with the agency’s enforcement activities.
OSHA Violations and Construction Contracts
Back in 2016, President Barack Obama passed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplace Executive Order in an effort to hold companies accountable for past OSHA violations. This legislative move requires federal contractors to disclose labor law violations when bidding on projects worth more than $500,000. While there’s some debate over what sparked the executive order, many point to recent examples of companies with serious OSHA violations benefitting from lucrative federal projects. According to a 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office, roughly 40% of the most severe workplace health and safety penalties issued between 2005 and 2009 were for organizations that received federal contracts. Government officials hope that putting these provisions in place will help promote greater transparency around OSHA violations and potentially unsafe work conditions.
While the executive order only applies to federal contracts, it’s brought more attention to the issue of worksite safety in the construction industry. One possible outcome is that state and local officials will heavily consider past OSHA violations during the bidding and contract negotiation processes. For site contractors who have received such an enforcement action, this trend could have serious repercussions for the longevity and financial stability of their operations.
Top 10 OSHA Violations
One of the best ways to prevent future OSHA violations is to understand which specific standards have the highest rates of enforcement. Keep in mind, the construction industry has its own set of guidelines that govern worksite and employee safety practices – alongside general standards for all occupations – that can make it difficult to create a truly comprehensive risk mitigation plan. According to recent data published by OSHA, the top 10 most frequently violated standards in 2018 were:
- Fall protection in construction (29 CFR 1926.501)
- Hazard communication (29 CFR 1910.1200)
- Scaffolding requirements (29 CFR 1926.451)
- Respiratory protection (29 CFR 1910.134)
- Control of hazardous energy (29 CFR 1910.147)
- Ladder usage in construction (29 CFR 1926.1053)
- Powered industrial trucks (29 CFR 1910.178)
- Fall Protection training requirements (29 CFR 1926.503)
- Machinery and machine guarding (29 CFR 1910.212)
- Eye and Face Protection (29 CFR 1926.102)
The exact amount a site prep contractor can be fined for a single violation varies based on the severity of the incident and whether it was a repeat offensive. As noted on OSHA’s website, the maximum penalty can range as high as $13,494 per serious violation. However, the reputational damage and lost contracts that can stem from labor law violations can take a real toll on new business prospects.
OSHA’s Excavation Standards
Beyond general requirements for fall protection, personal safety equipment and employee training, site prep contractors must also adhere to OSHA’s excavation standards. These detailed guidelines cover everything from the proper installation of ramps and runways to methods of testing worksites for potential atmospheric contaminants. Failing to uphold these standards can not only result in steep fines, it may also lower a construction company’s chances of landing large-scale projects at the local, state and federal levels. While OSHA’s excavation standards span several hundred pages, some of the most important safety provisions include:
- Mapping out underground utility lines before excavation begins
- Keeping heavy machinery away from trench edges
- Inspecting trenches for signs of erosion at the start of every shift
- Evaluating local weather conditions and the risk of rainfall
- Warning employees not to work under suspended or raised loads
For a more in-depth look at OSHA’s excavation standards, check out this detailed web page that outlines employer responsibilities and other key safety concerns. Remember, the more you know about existing labor laws, the better prepared you’ll be if an OSHA inspector pays your next worksite a visit.