OSHA Focuses on Construction Industry

As the construction season gets underway in the Northeast, I’m reminded of Scott Ketcham’s recent remarks at the American Bar Association’s OSHA/MSHA Law Conference in San Diego. Ketcham, the Director of OSHA’s Directorate of Construction, made it clear that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is focusing its regulatory muscle on the construction industry and plans to keep it there for the foreseeable future.

Why construction?

Even though construction makes up less than 8 percent of the workforce, Ketcham noted, it represents over 50 percent of the agency’s inspections. He said the fatality rate in the construction industry is three times higher than the general workforce, and it’s mostly avoidable.

Ketcham talked about falls and fall risks — one in ten worker deaths (in all industries) is due to a fall — and OSHA’s pending National Emphasis Program (NEP) related to fall hazards. He also addressed the alarming increase in trench fatalities and OSHA’s response. When evaluating trench safety on a worksite, inspection officers are issuing more “willful” citations than ever before. Why? More often than not, the proper safety equipment is on the job site. It’s just not in the trench.

OSHA compliance officers have instructions to stop and inspect any time they see employees working at height — or in a trench — to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place. So if you’re in the construction business, it’s wise to be prepared for an OSHA visit in the months ahead.

Expanding inspection capacity

Another factor that Ketcham emphasized was the enormous amount of construction work in the pipeline. Because the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will funnel a tremendous amount of money into the construction industry over the next seven years, OSHA plans to enhance its inspection capacity. The agency will accomplish this not only by hiring more compliance officers but also by prioritizing its targets. Ketcham said some examples of the worksites targeted for inspection include roadways, bridges, airports, railways, ports, waterways, and power and water systems.

New rules underway

In his address, Ketcham spoke about the numerous construction-related items on OSHA’s regulatory agenda. The Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) about personal protective equipment for women was highlighted, along with NPRMs concerning communication towers, cranes, welding in confined spaces, off-road forklifts, and lead.

OSHA’s National Emphasis Programs (NEPs) on fall protection and heat hazards were also discussion topics throughout the conference. Since September 2022, OSHA has conducted more than 1,600 inspections for heat-related hazards and issued over 1,200 citations. Changes to OSHA’s Instance-By-Instance citation policies have also enabled the agency to assess significant monetary penalties for violations of OSHA standards specific to falls, trenching, machine guarding, respiratory protection, permit-required confined spaces, lockout tagout, and “other-than-serious violations of OSHA standards specific to recordkeeping.” This new policy became effective on March 27, 2023.

New online resources

Because of the new federal money flowing into construction, OSHA is also concerned about a growing number of “newer, smaller companies competing for jobs” and that these companies may not have the safety resources of larger, more established construction firms. To help address these issues, Ketcham said, OSHA has developed new web resources  “to assist companies that will be working on infrastructure projects” in understanding the safety and health issues involved and “ensure that worksite hazards are recognized and controlled and that site-specific training needs are addressed.”

Increased scrutiny means more citations

Construction employers are advised to be especially vigilant about safety compliance and prepare for OSHA to stop by sometime in the months ahead. If you have any questions or concerns about your safety programs — or have received a citation for any reason — don’t hesitate to contact Orr & Reno for assistance.

About the Author: James Laboe

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