The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 22, 2019

OSHA enforcement remains robust under Trump

By The Building Tradesman



By Nick Fox, Laborers Health and Safety Fund of North America

Every year, federal OSHA releases its list of top 10 violations over the past year. The list, which includes citations in both construction and general industry, tends to stay pretty constant from year to year. This year is no different, with the only change in 2018 from 2017 being number 10 – “Eye and Face Protection” replacing “Electrical: Wiring Methods.”

While the violations on the list stay relatively constant, one change worth noting is the total number of citations being issued. In 2018, the top 10 violations totaled 31,816 citations. That’s a 10 percent increase from 2017, when the total was 28,774. The number of violations issued in 2017 also climbed from 2016, but the increase was much smaller, at only 3.5 percent.

It’s unclear whether this increase is being driven by more inspections, more citations being issued during inspections or another reason entirely, but the takeaway for LIUNA signatory contractors and all employers should be clear. Despite beliefs that an OSHA run by the new administration would mean a lot more compliance assistance than strong enforcement, it appears that OSHA is continuing to hold contractors accountable for safety violations that occur on worksites.

“We're interested in enforcement against the wrongdoer and helping the (companies) that want to comply,” says U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. “The Department of Labor has a strong enforcement record. It’s the strongest record in years.”

Now let’s take a look at the 10 most common violations. These are all considered “serious” violations and carry a maximum penalty of $12,934 per exposed employee. 

1. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501). It’s no surprise that compliance with fall protection continues to occupy the top spot. Year after year, falls kill more construction workers than any other hazard. This citation was issued most often for a lack of fall protection measures such as guardrails, covering floor openings and personal fall arrest systems.

2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200). While most of the citations on this list are for safety violations, this one has to do with protecting worker health. Thousands of different chemicals are used in workplaces across the U.S., and many of them can cause a variety of harmful health effects. Employers were cited for failing to train workers how to recognize, handle and mitigate hazards associated with the chemicals they are using.

3. Scaffolding (1926.451). The second of four fall-related violations in the top 10, scaffolding citations can be written for a variety of reasons. Common issues included not protecting employees from falling to a lower level, not fully planking the entire scaffold and not providing safe access to scaffold platforms.

4. Respiratory Protection (1910.134). Many OSHA standards require employers to provide workers with respirators in the presence of chemicals and other health hazards. The most common violation of the respiratory protection standard was a failure to have workers undergo medical fit testing prior to donning a respirator. Other violations included not having a written respiratory protection program and not providing employees with information about respirator use.

5. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147). Lockout/tagout procedures are a critical part of preventing electrocutions and workers from being crushed due to the unexpected startup of equipment. The most common violation under this standard was for employers who didn’t require workers to lockout or tagout equipment before beginning maintenance work. Employers were also cited for not performing periodic inspections of their energy control procedures.

6. Ladders (1926.1053). This is the third violation in the top 10 related to falls. The most common ladder violation by far was for ladder side rails that didn’t extend three feet or more beyond the upper landing surface and were not secured. Other common ladder safety violations included using ladders for purposes other than they were designed for or standing on the top three rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder.

7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178). Powered industrial trucks include forklifts and motorized hand trucks. All of the violations related to this standard involved allowing employees who have not been properly trained or certified to operate this equipment.

8. Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503). The last entry in the top 10 related to fall protection involves training requirements. Employers were cited most often for failing to train employees to recognize fall hazards and take steps to minimize them. The next most frequent violation was not keeping a written record that this training took place.

9. Machine Guarding (1910.212). The majority of machine guarding violations were fairly straightforward – they were for a lack of machine guarding. For the most part, guards are removed to make it easier to use the machine. Unfortunately, removing guards can result in workers’ hands, clothes and other items being caught in the machine. Guards removed during maintenance must be replaced when work resumes.

10. Eye and Face Protection (1926.102). Citations related to a lack of eye and face protection are the only new entry on this year’s list. Almost all of these violations were issued to employers that didn’t ensure employees were wearing personal protective equipment that would adequately protect them from flying particles, chemicals or other harmful gasses and vapors.

For more information on these on other common job site hazards, visit the Fund’s online Publications Catalogue by going to www.lhsfna.org and clicking on Publications. The Fund’s OSH Division is available to assist LIUNA signatory contractors with site visits or reviewing written injury and illness prevention programs.