No one wants to be cited by OSHA, the government agency that sets and enforces workplace safety standards. Citations for safely violations carry fines and are communicated publicly, promoting bad will among workers. Below are the five safety standards most frequently cited in OSHA inspections and how to avoid making a costly mistake in these areas.
Not enough is done to prevent falls on construction sites, says OSHA, which cites these common causes of workplace injury more than any other and nearly twice as much as the second most cited standard. There were 6,010 citations of this standard in FY 2018, OSHA’s most recent list, which was unveiled in September 2019.
Fall protection in the construction industry is of great concern to OSHA because falls can and do lead to serious injury and death. Employers must set up workplaces to prevent workers from falling off overhead platforms or elevated work stations or into holes in the floor or walls. First, employers must ensure that surfaces on which employees will work or walk have the requisite strength and structural integrity to support them. If an area is six feet or more above a lower area and has an unprotected edge, workers must be protected by guardrail, safety net or personal fall arrest systems. The latter refers to devices in which a body harness is secured to an anchor. Holes in the floor must be guarded by railings, toe-boards or floor hole covers, and floors must be kept clean, dry and free of debris to prevent slipping or tripping. In addition, if there is dangerous equipment on the site, workers must be protected from falling onto it.
There were 3,671 hazard communication violations in FY 2018. Companies with hazardous materials in their workplace, such as painting contractors or auto repair shops, must educate workers about the materials in a way they can understand. Chemical manufacturers and importers must first evaluate and categorize the hazards in the chemicals they produce or import and prepare labels and safety data for their customers. Employers who use these products must also have labels and data sheets, and they must educate and train their employees on safe usage.
About 2.3 million construction workers spend time on scaffolding each year, according to OSHA, which says following safe scaffolding practices can prevent 4,500 injuries and 50 fatalities annually. About 72 percent of scaffolding-related accidents are attributed to either the planking or support giving way or an employee slipping or being struck from a falling object, and these are important areas of focus for OSHA. Workers on scaffolding must be protected by guard rails and/or fall-arrest systems, and there are specific guidelines for components like guardrails, bracings, footings and flooring. Scaffolds and scaffold components must support at least four times the maximum intended load (or six times for suspension scaffold rigging). An inspection is required by a competent person before each shift or after any occurrence that could affect the scaffold’s structural integrity. Workers must be trained on the hazards of working on a scaffold and how to avoid them. For instance, working on a scaffold is not permitted when they are covered by snow, ice or other slippery materials.
Coming in at No. 4 was respiratory protection, which impacts millions of workers, who must wear respirators to protect themselves from insufficient oxygen environments, harmful dusts, smokes, mists, gases, vapors and sprays in the workplace. Compliance with the OSHA respiratory protection standard could prevent hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses each year, the agency says. To control these hazards, OSHA requires companies to use accepted engineering control measures, including enclosure or confinement of the operation, general and local ventilation, and substitution of less toxic materials where possible. When required to protect employees’ health, suitable respirators must be provided and employees must be required to use them. Further, employers must develop and implement a written respiratory protection program with worksite-specific procedures to be administered by a suitably trained program administrator.
This standard involves the servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment in which the release of stored energy from an unexpected start-up could cause injury or death. Potential injuries include electrocution, burns, or the crushing, cutting, lacerating, amputating or fracturing of body parts, according to OSHA, which notes craft workers, electricians, machine operators and laborers face the greatest risk of hazardous energy injury. To protect these workers, OSHA requires proper lockout/tagout (LOTO) practices, which include specific measures for controlling different types of hazardous energy, as well as training requirements to ensure workers know and understand how to follow safety procedures.
If you need assistance with an OSHA matter, give us a call. At Sheehy Ware and Pappas, we have 20 years of extensive experience in a wide range of OSHA matters, from compliance counseling and assessment to representing clients in investigations.