It’s no secret that the construction industry is full of risks. There were almost 1,000 fatalities and 250,000 medically consulted injuries in the construction industry in the US in 2020. So it’s easy to see why construction companies are always on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) radar and why construction inspections make up 60% of OSHA’s inspections.
Two-thirds of construction fatalities occur in four main areas. This is what OSHA calls “the Focus Four Hazards”—or the “Fatal Four.” Falls lead the group, followed by being struck by an object; and the last two are electrocutions and caught in between.
If you work in the construction industry, you’re probably familiar with the Focus Four and have put a plan into place to protect your workers from these common types of injuries. You also likely know your company could incur costly OSHA fines if you don’t address those Focus Four hazards. But there are some other important programs that OSHA is focusing on in 2022, and you should too in order to keep workers safe and OSHA at bay.
2021/2022 OSHA Construction Programs and Standards
With any administration change, employers can expect to see a change or update to OSHA’s focus on accident and fatality prevention. Under the Biden Administration, US workers, including construction workers, can expect the administration to enforce some existing and new regulations vigorously, guidelines, and national and regional (or local) emphasis programs.
National Emphasis Programs (NEPs) are temporary programs that focus OSHA’s resources on particular hazards and high-hazard industries. Some construction-related NEPs that OSHA has adopted since 2008 have dealt with combustible dust, hazardous machinery, hexavalent chromium, lead, crystalline silica, and trenching and excavation.
Local Emphasis Programs (LEPs) are enforcement strategies designed and implemented at the regional office or area office levels. These programs are intended to address hazards or industries that pose a particular risk to workers in the office’s jurisdiction. The emphasis programs can be implemented by a single area office or at the regional level (Regional Emphasis Programs) and applied to all area offices within that region.
Here are some areas you can expect enhanced OSHA construction company enforcement.
In September of 2021, President Biden launched a coordinated, interagency effort to respond to the extreme heat that threatens the lives and livelihoods of Americans, especially workers, children, and seniors. So it’s no surprise that OSHA’s Acting Director, James Frederick, has made heat safety a priority.
Almost 400 workers died from job-related heat stress in the past ten years. So last September, OSHA initiated measures to protect workers from heat-related injuries in an effort to reduce heat exposure. The agency plans to develop a national emphasis program, similar to an emphasis program created in 2018 by OSHA’s Region VI (Texas and surrounding states), to prioritize inspections of exposure to heat-related hazards.
In short, the Region VI program implemented a regional emphasis program (REP) to conduct heat illness inspections of outdoor work activities on days when the National Weather Service issued a “Heat Advisory.” The Advisory goes hand in hand with OSHA’s “Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers”.
OSHA also began the rulemaking process to develop workplace heat standards, using Region VI’s program as guidance. They also formed a National Advisory Committee on Heat Injury and Illness Prevention to help identify the challenges impacting worker safety.
OSHA has tasked its Area Directors to institute the following:
- prioritize inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals, and employee-reported illnesses and initiate an onsite investigation where possible;
- instruct compliance safety and health officers to conduct interventions (i.e., providing heat posters, wallet cards, trainings) or opening inspections when they observe employees performing strenuous activities in hot conditions; and
- expand the scope of other inspections to address heat-related hazards where worksite conditions or other evidence indicates present hazards.
OSHA moved towards adopting a federal heat standard in October 2021 by issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on heat injury and illness prevention in indoor and outdoor work settings.
Other OSHA National Emphasis Programs affecting the construction work include:
- The 2021 OSHA Fatality Inspection Procedures to Victim’s Family Program
This program outlines OSHA’s commitment to communicating with a victim’s family, or a designated representative, throughout a fatality inspection process. This initiative aims to keep the victim’s family informed of the status of the inspection, preliminary findings, any issued citations, proposed penalties, settlement, and closure of the case.
- OSHA’s Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (CPL 03-00-008)
This Program was re-issued in 2012. It is a long-standing program focused on abating combustible dust hazards. It contains policies and procedures for inspecting workplaces that create or handle combustible dusts. These dusts may cause a deflagration, other fires, or an explosion in some circumstances. These dusts include, but are not limited to:
• Metal dust such as aluminum and magnesium.
• Wood dust
• Coal and other carbon dusts.
• Plastic dust and additives
• Other organic dust like sugar, flour, paper, soap, and dried blood.
• Certain textile materials
- OSHA’ Lead Exposure National Emphasis Program (CPL 03-00-009)
A long-standing OSHA program that’s purpose is to reduce occupational lead exposures by effective targeting, enforcement, and outreach for lead hazards.
- OSHA’s Trenching and Excavation National Emphasis Program (CPL 02-00-161) emphasizes reducing or eliminating workplace hazards with trenching and excavation operations.
OSHA’s Regional Emphasis Programs affecting the construction industry
Along with OSHA’s national emphasis programs, OSHA’s ten regions each have their own specific emphasis programs. Some of these regional emphasis programs that affect the construction industry include:
- Noise hazards
There are noise hazard REPs in seven of OSHA’s ten regions.
- Fall hazards
Fall hazards are getting special attention in all but 2 of OSHA’s regions.
Cranes in construction are getting special attention in the New England, Pacific Northwest, and Texas (and surrounding states) regions (I, VI, and X).
There are demolition REPs in the regions stretching from New York south to Virginia and west to Minnesota (II, III, and V).
- Residential construction
Nebraska and Kansas have emphasis programs on commercial and residential construction following severe weather events.
There is an asbestos abatement REP in the Rocky Mountain region VIII.
- Highway & bridge construction
New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands all have heavy highway and bridge construction REPs in place.
OSHA’s REPs and NEPs help inform construction companies of how accidents occur and where OSHA focuses its efforts. But ultimately, every company should ensure they comply with all of OSHA’s regulations, preventing accidents and providing their employees with a safe work area.
KPA Can Help You Comply With OSHA’s Regulations.
Keeping workers safe is crucial for any company, but the stakes are particularly high in construction, given that the industry is responsible for one in five job-related deaths. That’s where KPA can help.