Q&A with OSHA

With a heightened focus on the remodeling industry, OSHA regulations are becoming an even larger concern for businesses as top management struggle to keep components in check at all times.

So, in order to help you reduce your risk of OSHA violations, NARI went straight to the source—asking OSHA officials what contractors need to know. Read on for good advice on how to protect yourself, navigate new regulations, regulate employees, avoid fines, keep effective recordkeeping, incorporate LRRP into your safety practices and resources for finding new OSHA regulations.

1. What is the most common violation and why?

OSHA’s Scaffolds standard (29 CFR 1926 Subpart L) is the most frequently cited construction standard  because scaffold use can create a number of hazards including falls, structural failure, tipping, and struck-by injuries. An estimated seven million Americans were employed in the construction industry in 2008. About 11.5 percent of construction workers were engaged in residential construction. Scaffolding is widely used throughout the construction industry as elevated work platforms and is the preferred method for working at heights. Scaffold accidents claimed the lives of 41 workers in 2009, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Scaffolds standard sets forth protective requirements for using specific types of scaffolds, as well as the necessary hazard training employers must provide to workers who use this equipment. OSHA’s Safety and Health Regulations for Construction (1926.20 (a)(1)), states that contractors and subcontractors cannot require, for any part of the contract work, laborers or mechanics employed in the performance of the contract to work in surroundings or under working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to the worker’s health or safety.We know that OSHA saves lives, and construction safety is one of OSHA’s top concerns. The following is a list of the top 10 most frequently cited standards in construction.





General requirements for scaffolds





Duty to have fall protection










Fall Protection Training requirement





Hazard Communication





General safety and health provisions





Head protection





Specific Excavation Requirements





Eye and face protection





Aerial lifts

2. Why are fall protection violations one of the most common on construction sites? Where are contractors misunderstanding about the requirements set by OSHA for this?

There is no sound reason for the failure of employers to provide fall protection for their employees. Some employers still choose to use shortcuts that bypass fall protection measures found under OSHA’s Subpart M – Fall Protection standard. Some of the reasons employers do not comply might be the perception that brief exposure somehow reduces the risk of a fall; that it would take too much time to set up a fall protection system; that fall protection equipment is cumbersome and gets in the way of production; or just indifference about providing fall protection to protect workers. Employers have the legal responsibility to provide safe working conditions.

The importance of complying with these standards is clear. Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry. The nature of construction, the majority of which requires work at heights, has always been recognized by OSHA as a top hazard to employees. Over the years, fall protection technology has advanced and costs have been reduced for fall protection devices, equipment and systems.

OSHA continues to provide fall protection guidance materials and training to employers to help them comply with fall protection requirements.

3. Are there any new OSHA regulations, (i.e. enacted in the last 5 years) that are relatively unknown?

OSHA has recently announced two major initiatives that affect the construction industry. One is a new standard addressing cranes and derricks and the other is a change in enforcement policy for residential fall protection.  We believe both are common knowledge in the constructions industry, however, because the agency provided notice to stakeholders about them through a number of means, including Federal Register notices, press releases, speeches, Web postings, OSHA’s twice-monthly electronic newsletter, media interviews, Webinars, and our network of Compliance Assistance Specialists located in every area office.

The enforcement policy change that may affect the remodeling industry is the rescission of STD 3-00-001, Interim Guidance for Fall Protection in Residential Construction. Effective June 16, 2011, residential construction employers must comply with the requirements of OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard, Subpart M of 29 CFR Part 1926. This changes a temporary policy that allowed residential construction employers to provide less protective measures.  Many employers engaged in residential, construction who may not have used the fall protection required by the standard, will now have to use these systems – systems that have been available for years and used effectively in their industry. OSHA announced its change in enforcement policy at meetings with construction industry representatives and during presentations at industry meetings, including with the National Roofing Contractor Association and others. We also published a notice in the, Federal Register (December 22, 2010) and issued a press release announcing rescission of the former policy. Furthermore, the agency delayed the effective date for six months to give employers time to become familiar with the new policy, provide workers with training on fall protection, and to purchase and provide fall protection equipment. OSHA is currently working with the construction industry to promote awareness of the new enforcement policy, and provide compliance guidance.

OSHA’s new Residential Fall Protection Web page includes a number of guidance materials, such as a residential fall protection slide show, a guidance document on fall protection in residential construction, a list of questions and answers, and a fact sheet on standards applicable to fall protection in residential construction. OSHA continues to develop additional resources to help employers protect residential construction workers.

OSHA also published a final rule for Cranes and Derricks in construction last year. Although the rule was a well publicized event, OSHA continues to ensure that all employers are aware of their responsibilities under the new cranes and derricks rule. The new standard is expected to prevent 22 fatalities and 175 non-fatal injuries a year.

Another standard that may affect the remodeling industry will be the Confined Spaces in Construction final rule, which we expect to publish November 2011. This final rule will regulate construction employers whose work exposes employees to confined spaces hazards.

4. How does OSHA advise business owners or managers to teach and regulate employees?

OSHA believes that worker training is an essential component of a company’s safety management system. Many of OSHA’s rules include requirements that employers must provide training for their workers. The agency encourages employers to evaluate their own job sites for workplace hazards, and then correct those hazards that exist. Part of the hazard evaluation process involves employers modifying their training programs to teach workers how to work safely. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 12 workers are killed every day on the job and more than 3.3 million suffer a serious work related injury or illness each year. The direct cost of the most serious injuries and fatalities is about $1 billion per week. These injuries and illnesses are preventable. OSHA believes that workers will be better protected if each employer develops a proactive program to help it identify workplace hazards and develop processes to abate them.

Injury and Illness Prevention Programs, known by a variety of names, are universal interventions that can substantially reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries and alleviate the associated financial burdens on U.S. workplaces. Many states have requirements or voluntary guidelines for workplace injury and illness prevention programs. Also, numerous employers in the United States already manage safety using Injury and Illness Prevention Programs and we believe that all employers can and should do the same. Most successful injury and illness prevention programs are based on a common set of key elements. These include: management leadership, worker participation, hazard identification, hazard prevention and control, education and training, and program evaluation and improvement.

OSHA uses many tools to help keep businesses and managers informed of the training requirements in the OSHA standards. OSHA publishes QuickTakes, a twice-monthly e-newsletter that the public can subscribe to at no charge. QuickTakes contains articles in each issue that address OSHA’s current initiatives, new products and policies. Employers also can review OSHA’s Web site, www.osha.gov, to read the latest press releases issued nationally and regionally.

OSHA also requires employers to provide training and guidance to workers in a language they can understand. The agency has publications, information and training tools in multiple languages available on its Web site.

Each OSHA Area Office has a Compliance Assistance Specialist (CAS) on staff to help employers and workers in a non-enforcement role with compliance issues regarding training. OSHA has a section on its Web site where business owners can ask OSHA questions electronically and provides compliance assistance to the construction industry, including OSHA’s Safety and Health Topics – OSHA Assistance for the Residential Construction Industry. The page lists information specifically related to the residential construction industry including standards, directives, and resources explaining hazards and solutions, and safety and health programs.

We recognize that most small construction businesses may not be able to hire a full-time health and safety staff, nor are many able to hire consultants to address their safety and health obligations. To assist these small business employers, OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses nationwide, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing safety and health management systems. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. OSHA conducted 31,000 on-site consultation visits in fiscal 2010.

OSHA’s Publications page lists agency resources related to construction safety and health.

OSHA has also been working closely with the building industry and labor unions to find and implement solutions to worker injuries and deaths by incorporating engineering controls into construction practices. For example, Prevention through Design, a novel idea a few years ago, is finding wider acceptance in the industry, and these life-saving controls are moving toward becoming the norm for new and renovated buildings.

Individuals with questions can call OSHA’s toll free number at 1-800-321-6742. Visit OSHA’s Web site (www.osha.gov) for additional safety and health information and resources.

5. What is the most common scenario for contractors to receive a fine from OSHA? Do you have to commit repeat offenses? Are violators usually reported through an outside source?

There is no common event that results in an OSHA citation or fine. OSHA conducts both programmed and unprogrammed inspections of worksites and may issue citations and proposed penalties if an employer has violated OSHA standards. OSHA initiates inspections in a number of ways including, but not limited to, where:

  • There has been a fatality
  • An incident results in multiple hospitalizations
  • A worker files a formal complaint
  • A referral is made by an outside source
  • A hazard poses an imminent danger to workers.

OSHA’s Site-Specific Targeting Program focuses on employers with the highest incidence of injuries and illnesses in their workplaces. OSHA also has implemented a number of National Emphasis Programs (NEPs) and Local Emphasis Programs (LEPs) that target specific hazards or hazardous industries.

For example, scaffolding-related violations, including fall hazards, are the most common violations encountered by OSHA Compliance Officers at construction sites. Employers whose workers typically use scaffolds should ensure that their supervisors and crew leaders know the requirements of OSHA’s scaffolds standard. .

6. How are you advising contractors who are confused by the discrepancies between OSHA’s lead regulations and the EPA’s?

In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency developed training requirements and a model curriculum for its Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (LRRP) Rule. During this time, EPA asked OSHA if its curriculum should include information on OSHA’s Lead Standard for Construction (29 CFR 1926.62). OSHA recommended that the Lead standard, as well as other OSHA standards, such as those addressing personal protective equipment and hazard communication, be identified within EPA’s curriculum.

OSHA is advising contractors that it is the responsibility of employers, not the EPA, to identify hazards at their worksites and to be familiar with standards that apply to those hazards. Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for training workers on safety and health standards that pertain to their workplace activities, regardless of whether those activities are performed under the LRRP Rule.

In answer to your question on whether there may be any conflicts in compliance with both the EPA LRRP Rule and the OSHA Lead standard, our reply is that we believe there are no conflicts. OSHA understands that both agencies’ lead standards apply to contractors performing work that exposes them to lead. EPA’s LRRP rule exists to protect the environment and the public, while OSHA’s Lead standard protects workers exposed to lead. Though these overlapping rules may cause concerns for affected building owners and contractors, OSHA believes that employers who provide workers with proper training will ensure their health and safety.

7. What is the most important thing involved in recordkeeping? How large of a factor is recordkeeping in whether or not someone is fined?

The recording of injuries and illnesses under OSHA’s Recordkeeping standard is a critical element of an employer’s safety and health efforts. The purpose of recordkeeping is to keep track of work-related injuries and illnesses, which can help employers prevent future incidents. Injury and illness data that is to be maintained in the recordkeeping forms help identify problem areas. The more employers know about safety and health hazards present at their sites, the better they can identify and correct these conditions.

OSHA asks about 80,000 establishments each year to report injury and illness data directly to OSHA, which uses this information as part of its site-specific inspection targeting program. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also uses injury and illness records as the source data for the Annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses that shows safety and health trends nationwide and industry-wide.

OSHA will evaluate all documentation resulting from an inspection before making a recommendation regarding a penalty assessment. For an employer who has committed minor or technical violations, there may be no penalty or one that is relatively low. However, if an employer has intentionally disregarded its recordkeeping obligations, OSHA will likely propose a larger penalty.

8. How often should business owners research OSHA for new or updated regulations? Is there an efficient way to keep up with these changes?

An easy way for employers to stay abreast of recent or proposed OSHA initiatives is to sign up for QuickTakes, a simple and free e-mail service that sends a newsletter twice monthly to subscribers. Articles include information about proposed and final rules, agency guidance, policy changes, and information about enforcement actions. OSHA also encourages business owners and managers to get and stay involved in their local workplace safety and health community and work with the local OSHA and state consultation offices.

Employers are also encouraged to participate in the extensive public consultation process that OSHA goes through before issuing any new standards. OSHA conducts sophisticated reviews of the economic impact of regulations, and reports on economic and technical feasibility. In addition to stakeholder meetings and online Web chats, OSHA receives input from small businesses through the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) panels for major regulations, holds public hearings, and solicits extensive written comments. Announcements of these opportunities for public input are published in the Federal Register.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the creation of OSHA. In the four decades since the OSH Act was enacted, the nation has made dramatic progress in reducing work related deaths and injuries. Since 1970, workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent. Reported occupational injury and illness rates have decreased by over 67 percent since 1973. Clearly much of our progress is due to government standards and greater awareness of workplace safe practices brought about by OSHA.

| 4/20/2011 12:00:00 AM | 43 comments
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