What Is OSHA’s Role in Construction Standards?

OSHA Standards

Construction employees have a right to a safe workplace. Since the Occupational Safety and Health Act began in 1970 and was enacted the following year, the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has significantly improved workplace conditions to reduce workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses in the construction industry.

Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 states the following: “To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health…”

OSHA covers most employers in the private sector and employees in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. jurisdictions. Florida is under federal OSHA jurisdiction which covers most private-sector workers within the state. State and local government workers are not covered by federal OSHA.

OSHA requires construction companies to follow standards set forth to improve workplace safety and often works with federal, state, and local partners regarding training and education for construction workers. Though interpretation and reinforcement of these standards may change over time, under OSHA standards, employers have a general duty to provide a safe and healthful workplace that is free from serious recognized hazards.

A construction company should do the following:

  • Keep workspaces organized, clean, and clear of clutter especially floors.
  • Floors should be kept as dry as possible to avoid slippery conditions caused by weather changes or workplace spills
  • Employees must be trained on safety protocols in a language and vocabulary that they understand
  • Employers are required to provide protective gear to workers at construction free of charge sites. For example, an employer is responsible for providing safety harnesses to its workers to ensure those on-site meet the personal fall protection standards. Employers also must provide appropriate face and eye protection as needed, along with respirators as needed
  • Employees must Inform workers about dangerous chemicals and materials that may be at the construction site. This is known as the “right to know” standard.
  • Employers with more than 10 employees must keep track of injuries or illnesses related to the workplace. This is known as the record-keeping rule
  • Employees must be trained on how to handle hazardous chemicals and materials
  • Other examples may include preventing exposure to high levels of noise that may damage a worker’s hearing and preventing exposure to harmful levels of substances like asbestos and lead

OSHA also gives employees the rights to:

  • Review of standards, rules, and regulations that an employer must follow
  • Access information regarding exposure at the workplace and any relevant medical records
  • Request an inspection of the workplace if they believe there are violations of OSHA standards
  • File a complaint to OSHA with their names withheld
  • Be free of any retaliatory action by their employer should the employee have their information disclosed with the complaint

OSHA requires employers obligated to:

  • Provide a workplace that is free from the recognized hazards under OSHA standards
  • Provide information to employees in a language and vocabulary that they understand about health and safety standards at the workplace Provide a hazard communication program that includes employee training, material safety data, and proper labeling of materials
  • Provide employees with exposure records existence and access, allowing employees to review any of these documents upon request

While OSHA requires employers to meet these standards, violations are still found year to year. If there is a hazard at the workplace, an employee should contact an OSHA area office or state office with a written complaint.

OSHA inspects workplace conditions according to the following priorities:

  • Imminent danger
  • A hospitalization or fatality
  • Worker complaints
  • Targeted inspections
  • Follow-up inspections

The following were the top 10 most frequently cited standards by OSHA for 2019:

  1. Fall protection, construction
  2. Hazard communication standard, general industry
  3. Respiratory protection, general industry
  4. Scaffolding, general requirements, construction
  5. Ladders, construction
  6. Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tag-out), general industry
  7. Powered industrial trucks, general industry
  8. Fall Protection–Training Requirements
  9. Eye and Face Protection
  10. Machinery and Machine Guarding, general requirements

OSHA has a campaign specifically to help prevent on-site accidents related to the fatal four, which are the leading causes of death in the construction industry.

  1. Falls
  2. Caught in or Between
  3. Struck By
  4. Electrocution

The “Focus Four” campaign was restarted in 2020 in order to raise awareness about these causes of death and improve hazard recognition levels. While construction workers have become more proficient in recognizing the fatal-four safety hazards, a significant amount of these hazards remain unrecognized, and an even larger proportion of hazards in the non-fatal-four category remain unrecognized.

The campaign aimed to specifically improve awareness of these hazards and the ability of employees to recognize these risks on-site. The campaign also provides key information and educational resources to employers with the delivery of toolbox talks so that employers can better control the workplace environment to reduce the fatal four risks.

As federal and state laws monitor and promote workplace safety, an employer may still fail to meet these standards and can face legal consequences as a result. Anyone who suffers injury from an incident related to a construction site should consult with an attorney about options regarding legal claims. General contractors, sub-contractors, prime contractors, property owners, architects and engineers, and manufacturers may bear responsibility for an incident that occurred. As multiple partners may collaborate on construction projects, liability may involve more than one party. Legal claims regarding construction accidents can be complicated and it is best to consult with an experienced attorney about your options for workers’ compensation and/or a personal injury lawsuit.

Contact Clayton Trial Lawyers, we can help.