Compliance and preparedness on safety matters are important priorities on construction sites, demanding significant investments of time and focus. Not only is the construction sector governed by unique sets of rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but these regulations are subject to updates and revisions as well.
There’s no one silver-bullet approach to running a compliant construction site. Leaders have to focus on longstanding regulations as well as new and updated rules, adjusting standards on the site and preparing their employees to obey the rules and follow best practices. Clear communication regarding accepted operations is essential, as is training on the relevant concepts.
The following are a few areas of OSHA policy that have received recent updates. While these aren’t the only topics construction leaders have to worry about, they are an important and relevant starting point, one that can keep construction organizations on the path to compliance.
In recent years, OSHA has released new standards for the permissible exposure to silica on work sites. Over the course of 2017, industry groups challenged the new regulations, trying to make them more lenient. However, a National Law Review article by law firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart revealed that each of the challenges was turned down by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
By the end of 2017, the new silica exposure standard stood. Now, construction employees must not be exposed to more than 50 micrograms per cubic centimeter of silica, the same as the general industry standard. The previous standard allowed amount was 250 micrograms in construction, and 100 micrograms in other industries.
The law firm described the new, more stringent silica exposure standard as one of the major legislative victories of OSHA during the Obama administration. Of course, the fact that the Trump administration has taken over does raise questions about whether the standard will remain on the books – a disdain for new regulations has been a trademark of recent years.
That said, it would likely be too much of an assumption for construction leaders to assume they don’t have to comply – Ogletree Deakins pointed out that there would be a serious political cost associated with re-opening the matter.
One of the major changes in recent years regarding OSHA rules has involved the tracking of injuries on job sites. While this rule isn’t the newest one on the books, it remains relevant in the present due to many employers’ failure to comply. According to Construction Dive, hundreds of thousands of work sites haven’t submitted the data required by the latest version of illness and injury reporting rules. The news provider cited Bloomberg Environment reports, which revealed fewer than half the expected construction sites filed electronically – 153,653 of an expected 350,000.
Obviously, companies have to become better about keeping up with the latest standards in injury report filing. Construction Dive reported that many employers may have surmised they weren’t affected by the latest OSHA rules due to their small size or industry. Others may have been counting on extra time to comply – the date was pushed back several times, which might have created the mistaken expectation of further delays.
Some experts have added that OSHA’s lenience so far – with medium-sized fines and exemptions for companies that claim difficulty in filing, file on paper or file 2017 reports – may be encouraging a lackadaisical compliance climate.
Hazards Affecting Women
According to Safety + Health Magazine, OSHA and the National Association of Women in Construction will continue working on countering hazards in the workplace that specifically affect female employees. From 2013 on, the two groups have focused on creating and publicizing rules that affect protective gear, intimidation, violence, sanitation and more. Round table discussions allow experts to bring up new and continuing issues and create a public forum for new rule making.
OSHA Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor Loren Sweatt noted the percentage of women on job sites is growing. Efforts to create and promote female-friendly rules may help this growth continue, diversifying the construction workforce and opening up new pools of candidates to fill labor needs. Leaders in the field must be aware of the alliance’s findings over the next few years as they relate to new standards.
Training to Stay Compliant
Construction is a unique industry, in both the rules that govern the field and the day-to-day norms of working. Training courses specifically tailored to the industry and designed to meet OSHA requirements are therefore an essential part of any leader’s toolkit. It’s impossible to maintain a truly safe or compliant job site if the personnel involved don’t know their own roles and responsibilities – this is where standardized training comes in.
Courses that brief workers on acceptable and unacceptable exposure to dangerous substances, the proper way to report injuries, norms for the treatment of fellow employees and much more are available as digital videos. E-learning may be a perfect fit for the construction industry, as it gives leaders flexibility regarding when and where they present educational materials to their teams.