What Does OSHA Do?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a government agency responsible for regulating and legislating for workplace safety in the United States. Whether you’re an employee, contractor, subcontractor, or the owner of your own construction firm, it’s important to be familiar with OSHA and the guidelines they create for worker safety. This resource is meant to help you get more familiar with OSHA regulations. You’ll learn about how the organization was founded, what they do to try and improve and maintain job safety for workers in America, and how you can ensure that your business practices are in line with what’s expected by this far-reaching government organization.
The Role of OSHA
President Richard M. Nixon established OSHA in 1971 with the mandate 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.” OSHA is a business regulator, and it’s their mandate to set standards for your job site and ensure that workers have the right equipment and training to work safely and effectively on any construction project. OSHA also enforces whistle blower statutes – special laws that protect those who choose to report OSHA and workers’ rights violations in their own workplaces. OSHA regularly sends agents to inspect workplaces around the country, fining employers for safety and health violations, shutting down businesses, and taking other measures to ensure that businesses are held accountable for the conditions their workers are exposed to.
OSHA by the Numbers
• The OSHA is currently in its 46th year of operation – the agency was formed in 1971
• The OSHA is a well-staffed government agency - it employed 2,265 Americans in 2015
• The OSHA operates under the United States Department of Labour with an annual budget of $552MM.
• The OSHA is very wide-reaching despite relatively small budget and number of employees – it employs 2,400 inspectors that cover 8 million workplaces where nearly 130 million people are employed. This tiny agency protects a lot of people!
• In 2012, the OSHA conducted inspections for health and safety violations at 83,000 workplaces.
• OSHA fines aren’t always crippling – the maximum fine for a serious violation is $12,500, while the maximum for a repeated or willful health and safety violation is $125,000.
• While it levies plenty of fines during inspections, OSHA inspections have resulted in just 12 criminal convictions in over 40 years.
The Most Important Federal OSHA Regulations to Know
Although the OSHA doesn’t have time to investigate every business or job site in the United States, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared for a visit from your local OSHA inspector. Creating a safe and healthy workplace or job site for your employees and contractors is the right thing to do, and it could help you avoid some major fines if you’re ever inspected. Here are the construction violations that are most commonly cited by the OSHA:
1. Hazard Communication – In 496 construction site inspections last year, the OSHA issued 963 fines for improper Hazard Communication. Construction sites must have adequate information classifying the potential hazards of chemicals and communicating that information to employees, usually through a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Make sure that information on workplace hazards is readily available for your employees
2. Eye and Face Protection – The OSHA issued an average of one citation per inspection related to this violation last year, collecting fines that total almost $2.9MM. The relevant standard reads: “The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.”
3. Training Requirements – The OSHA collected just over $1.8MM in fines last year because of workers with inadequate training being present on job sites. Ensure that you know what training courses and certifications are required for the roles on your job site, and keep evidence of that training in folders that are readily available in case of an inspection.
4. General Requirements (Scaffolding) – The OSHA collected almost $8.5 million in fines last year because of scaffolding on job sites that did not fulfill basic safety requirements. Visit the OSHA website and review the requirements to ensure that your operation is compliant.
5. Duty to have Fall Protection – The number one revenue-generating violation on construction site is Duty to have Fall Protection. The OSHA inspected 6,225 job sites where fall protection was required, issued 6,500 citations, and collected just over $25MM from businesses – an average of nearly $4,000 per fine. To keep your hard-earned money in your pockets, ensure that workers on your job site are protected by guard rails, harnesses or safety nets in situations where they are working more than 6 feet above a lower level.
The OSHA plays an important role in ensuring that workplaces are adequately safe for employees in the United States. While there are many OSHA standards to follow, compliance with health and safety standards, along with regular safety training, will protect your workers from injury and protect you from hefty fines.