Evaluate Your Safety Policies to Keep OSHA at Bay

Think OSHA and its regulations are a huge thorn in your side? Just wait - you may not have seen anything yet. The recent spate of highly publicized, construction-related accidents have once again brought the construction industry and OSHA under intense scrutiny.

OSHA has faced increasingly harsh criticism for failing to develop new and/or update safety regulations, as well as enforce those currently in place. A dramatic jump in fatal incidents - including crane accidents in New York City and Houston, and 12 construction worker deaths in Las Vegas in less than 19 months - has brought the issue to a head.

A hearing was held in late June to assess whether OSHA is doing enough to enforce construction industry safety rules. The general consensus was "no."

During the hearing, Mark H. Ayers, president, House Education and Labor Committee, Building and Construction Trades Department, actually called for the development of a new office of construction safety within OSHA to ensure greater industry oversight. He also recommended stepped up jobsite enforcement activities; the immediate promulgation of a crane safety standard; a temporary emergency standard requiring training and certification of workers in the 10-hour OSHA safety and health training program; and increased funding for construction safety and health research under NIOSH.

The pressure being placed on OSHA to step up enforcement is a double-edged sword for construction. While it may serve to reduce worker injuries and/or deaths among firms struggling to comply with safety regulations, it may also place undue burden upon companies with effective safety programs already in place.

So what can you do to reduce the likelihood your company will fall victim to OSHA's renewed enforcement efforts? A good starting point is to review your safety program to ensure continued compliance with OSHA standards, as well as to identify any areas that could use updating or improvement. Make sure all employees are regularly informed/reminded of corporate safety policies. Outline the repercussions for failing to adhere to these policies, and make sure "offenders" are punished - with no exceptions.

Next, turn a critical eye to your jobsites. In addition to the risk assessment that should be completed prior to the start of any project, the site should be evaluated on an ongoing basis to identify any new hazards that may have arisen. Strongly encourage workers to report any safety concerns to field supervisors or the safety manager, if applicable. For large or high-profile jobs, consider bringing in a third-party safety consultant to perform regular hazard assessments.

Ensure proper training and equipment are provided to workers to address any safety risks. In addition to classroom training, a variety of print (including the Construction Zone Safety) and online materials are available to aid in your training efforts.

Above all, be sure to carefully document all steps taken to promote jobsite safety, including any disciplinary actions taken for noncompliance with corporate safety policy. Maintaining thorough documentation could one day mean the difference between a large fine and a slap on the wrist should OSHA come to call.