Prior to January 20th, 2017, it was almost a daily occurrence for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a press release about a large fine they have recently levied against businesses. Since January 20th, news coming directly from OSHA has been extremely sparse. There were some updates, like the delay of their new silica dust exposure rule and information about their “Safe and Sound Campaign,” but nothing about recent fines and citations.
It’s not clear what stopped the organization from posting these types of “public shaming” posts, but some believe it’s connected to President Trump’s more pro-business approach. Whatever the reason may be, it appears to no longer be an issue, because OSHA has posted their first citation announcement in almost 3 months…and it’s a big one.
In October of 2016, two men were killed after a 12-foot-deep trench collapsed, which, in turn, broke a fire hydrant supply line, which then caused the trench to flood with water in seconds. After OSHA’s investigation, they are proposing $1,475,813 in fines against Atlantic Drain Service Co. Inc and cited the company for 18 willful, repeat, serious, and other-than-serious violations. During the investigation, OSHA determined that the company and the owner, who was overseeing the work that day, failed to:
- Install a support system to protect employees in an approximately 12-foot deep trench from a cave-in and prevent the adjacent fire hydrant from collapsing.
- Remove employees from the hazardous conditions in the trench.
- Train the workers in how to identify and address hazards associated with trenching and excavation work.
- Provide a ladder at all times so employees could exit the trench.
- Support structures next to the trench that posed overhead hazards.
- Provide employees with hardhats and eye protection.
The full list of citations can be viewed on OSHA’s website by clicking here. OSHA stated that this same company was also cited for similar hazards in 2007 and 2012.
Trench collapses are easily avoidable by taking appropriate precautions before allowing employees to enter the hole. Sadly, trench related deaths more than doubled in 2016 vs. 2015, but we certainly hope that trend is bucked in 2017. The government is also becoming less tolerant of jobsite deaths involving trenches, as both a site foreman and the general contractor of a different trench collapse in New York were charged with criminally negligent homicide last year.
For more information about trench safety, you can read OSHA’s standards here.
Tool box safety talks are super important, but sometimes they can be pretty dry. In order to keep people engaged and committed to jobsite safety, sometimes you have to mix it up a little bit. A construction company in New Zealand has an aspiring rapper on their team and they decided to enlist his help for a safety talk and it’s pretty entertaining. This company isn’t the first company to use rap music to send a message, as Caterpillar also released a rap about their bulldozers.
Communication is key to a safe and productive construction environment. One of the biggest challenges of effective communication on job sites is the complexity and size of the project, which inhibits being able to contact the correct people in a timely manner. Tracking devices have been a hot button issue in construction news for the last few years. Some examples include RFID tag sensors in hard hats, such as the one being used on certain job sites in Washington DC and time sheet applications, which allow employers to track their employee’s locations using the GPS on their phone’s or tablets.
Construction crews in Parma, Idaho were busy working onmulti-story onion shed, when the under construction structure collapsed, sending some that were on the roof down with it. 14 crew members were either on the structure or around it at the time of collapse, but 6 of them were transported to the hospital. First responders on the scene explained that it was lucky that only 6 were injured.
For decades, hard hats have been synonymous with construction job site safety. Their one major flaw, however, is that if workers fall, the hard hat rarely stays on their head, exposing them to possible head injuries resulting from the fall. According to Bloomberg News, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) launched research campaign to determine their effectiveness in protecting against head and neck injuries. Their findings have not yet been released, but companies have begun to seek out new products, in hopes of reducing injuries.
You may remember a story we shared at the end of June about a rescue of a construction worker who was dangling from a suspended scaffold 15 stories in the air. The Sarasota County Fire Department completed a very skilled rescue, in which one firefighter scaled down the side of the building to the trapped worker, attached him to a harness, and both men were hoisted back up to the roof. The cause of that failure was a snapped line. At that time, the fire chief mentioned that he rarely sees events like this and that only 5 or 6 rescues like this have happened in his 29 year career.
OSHA currently controls over 20 laws that protect workers who file safety complaints against their employer or other employees. In general, whistleblowers are protected against retaliation from their employer.
In January of this year, tragedy struck a Florida construction company when 3 construction workers died while working underground below a newly paved road. After the first worker entered the hole and collapsed after entering the confined space through a manhole, the second went in to rescue him and also collapsed, followed by the third. After a post-incident investigation, OSHA has released their findings, as well as several fines.
In late June, OSHA pushed the enforcement of their 2016 rule which will require employers to electronically submit injury and illness reports from July 1, 2017 to December 1, 2017. At that time it was unknown when the administration would launch the platform to submit the data online, but that has now been decided.
In January of 2017, OSHA released a final rule which greatly reduced the allowable exposure to beryllium, a mineral that can cause deadly lung disease. While not as commonly encountered in the construction industry as other substances that cause terrible lung diseases, like crystalline silica and asbestos, beryllium is linked to a disease called chronic beryllium disease, which kills around 100 people each year. It’s commonly found in coal slag, which is used for sandblasting. According to the New York Times, OSHA estimates that 11,500 construction workers would be affected by OSHA’s reduced exposure limit.
As recently highlighted by several multi-story building fires, contractors should always be prepared in the event a fire starts on a job site. There have been dozens multi-story building fires in the past few years and many were started when the building was topped out. In most cases, the project was completely destroyed, leaving developers and owners to deal with years of delays from insurance claims. A massive five-alarm fire at an Oakland construction site is one of the more recent examples.