In July 2015, an inspector from the U.S Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration was driving by a construction site in North Andover, Connecticut, when he saw three workers on a rooftop about 18 feet above the ground. The inspector determined that the workers were not wearing OSHA-mandated fall protection and were “one slip, trip or misstep away from a deadly or disabling fall.” After a subsequent inspection turned up four additional serious workplace safety violations, the workers’ employer, Woburn, Connecticut based roofing contractor Force Corp., was assessed a proposed $91,000 in fines.
Nor was this Force Corp.’s first run in with OSHA. The company was cited for workplace safety violations, specifically around the lack of adequate fall protection, at four different job sites in 2013.
Workplace Safety Violations Put Workers at Risk
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 4,679 workplace fatalities in the United States in 2014, and another 1,157,410 workers suffered on-the-job injuries severe enough to require time away from work. Injuries were most prevalent in the following industries: sheriff’s patrol officers; correctional officers and jailers; firefighters; nursing assistants; construction laborers; and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers. About one in four injuries was due to a slip or fall: In the construction injury, falls were the leading cause of on-the-job deaths, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all workplace fatalities.
Avoiding Workplace Safety Violations
In 2012, in partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and NIOSH’s National Occupational Research Agenda program, OSHA implemented a comprehensive education and training program to help construction employers minimize on-the-job falls. The campaign provides employers with information and educational materials on how to provide the correct fall-protection equipment for workers and train them in its use.
At the same time, OSHA also created standards that outline safety measures employers must put in place when employees are working at heights of 6 feet or more. The standards also mandate protection from falling objects, tripping over or falling through holes, and protection when working around dangerous equipment, regardless of height. (Fall protection is required, for example, if a worker is working above belts, pulleys, gears or vats of corrosive materials.)
OSHA standards mandate specific protections for various situations. Some of these include:
- Leading edge: Each worker constructing a leading edge 6 feet or more above a lower level must be protected by guardrail systems, safety net systems or personal fall arrest systems.
- Low-slope roofs : When doing roofing work on a low-slope roof that has one or more unprotected sides 6 feet or more above ground level, workers must be protected from falling by:
- Guardrail systems
- Safety net systems
- Personal fall arrest systems
- A combination fall protection system and warning line system – or –
- A warning line system and a safety monitoring system.
- Overhand bricklaying: Workers who perform overhand bricklaying 6 feet or more above a lower level or who reach 10 inches or more below the level of a working surface must be protected by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.
To find out more about avoiding workplace safety violations, review OSHA’s publication Fall Protection in Construction which provides information about different types of fall protection systems and the types of workers who are most at risk. Additionally, the online resource, Stop Falls, offers fact sheets, posters and videos that illustrate fall hazards in the construction industry and outline appropriate preventive measures.
As an employer, you are responsible for keeping your workers safe. Although no workplace is 100 percent hazard free, you can eliminate workplace safety violations by adhering to OSHA guidelines and implementing a comprehensive safety program involving all of your employees.
Not sure how to get started? Contact one of our construction insurance experts, who can help you assess your risk and make a plan. Call us at 516-292-3780, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to set up an appointment, or request a free consultation online today.