Credit: Ron Hyink

For more than 40 years, safety in the workplace has been under the watchful eye of OSHA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. And while OSHA has not always been popular among manufacturers, Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor OSHA, notes that since 1970 workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65%, and reported occupational injury and illness rates have decreased by more than 67%. Despite those reductions, the workplace still poses significant injury and illness challenges each and every day:

  • Every day, nearly 13 workers die on the job (4,609 killed in 2011, an improvement from nearly 38 worker deaths a day in 1970).
  • Every year, more than 4.1 million workers suffer a serious job-related injury or illness.
  • Total costs paid for workers’ compensation reached $74 billion in 2009 (according to the National Academy of Social Insurance report):

Of the 4,114 worker fatalities in private industry during 2011, the latest year for which full statistics are available, 721 or 17.5% were in construction. The leading causes of worker deaths on construction sites were falls, followed by electrocution, struck by object, and caught-in/between situations. These “fatal four” were responsible for nearly three out of every five construction worker deaths in 2011. Eliminating the “fatal four” would save roughly 410 lives in America every year.

  • Falls – 251 in 2011 (35%)
  • Struck by Object – 73 in 2011 (10%)
  • Electrocutions – 67 in 2011 (9%)
  • Caught-in/between – 19 in 2011 (3%)

As you can see, even with the significant worker safety improvements from OSHA’s inauguration in 1971, there is still room for great improvement, especially when considering that 13 workers who go to work every day will not return home to their friends and family.

OSHA Top 10 for 2012

Every year, OSHA releases its top 10 most frequently cited violations from the previous fiscal year as compiled by OSHA inspections. OSHA publishes this list to alert employers and employees about commonly cited standards so that they can use this information to take preventive measures. Many if not all of these frequently cited standards are preventable injuries or illnesses that occur in the workplace.

Year after year, this top 10 list of frequently cited OSHA violations remains basically the same. There may be a reshuffling of violations from year to year, but essentially the layout remains unchanged. Patrick Kapust, OSHA’s deputy director of the Directorate of Enforcement Programs, best described the reason for creating a top 10 list in a recent interview with the Safety and Health Council: “The data found in the top 10 list is not meant to gauge how well OSHA is performing or how safe businesses in the country are. The list is at its best when used by employers as a tool to improve safety at their work sites. Employers who may be interested in what are the possible hazards in their workplaces could look at the top 10 list and see if they’re covering all hazards and assessing the kinds of changes they may have to make to their safety and health programs.”

The top 10 most frequently cited standards (Construction and General Industry) for fiscal 2012 (Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012) are:

#1 – Fall Protection (29 CFR 1926.501 – cited 7,250 times)

The use of 100% fall protection at the point of work, as well as going to and from the work area, is mandatory for all employees and all contractor personnel on projects when employees are at risk of falling or working a minimum of 6 ft or more off the floor or ground. The exception is the plant area covered by 29 CFR 1910.23, where the minimum distance off the floor or ground is 4 ft. Falls continue to be the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. Violations occur when these minimum requirements are not met.

#2 – Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200 – cited 4,696 times)

It is important to establish requirements and procedures necessary to evaluate chemicals used at each respective site. Employers must provide information concerning physical and health hazards associated with these chemicals to employees who may come in contact with one or more of the chemicals on the job, and they must protect employees against uncontrolled exposure to these chemicals.

Employers share information through comprehensive hazard communication programs, which include container labeling and other forms of warning, safety data sheets and employee training. The requirements of this section are intended to be consistent with the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, Revision 3.

With the implementation of OSHA’s new Globally Harmonized System (GHS) into its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), which will require full compliance by June 1, 2015, precasters will need to start transitioning their HazCom training, information and labeling to GHS in order to fully comply with OSHA regulations. Read more on GHS and the phase-in dates in the January-February 2013 issue of Precast Inc. magazine.

Mislabeling and the absence of training and safety data sheets continue to be among the top violations in the construction industry.

#3 – Scaffolding (29 CFR 1926.451 – cited 3,814 times)

Scaffolding violations may not be as prevalent in the precast industry, but for precasters who use scaffolding in their day-to-day operations, violations often occur when a walking surfaces fails to resist the load that it is handling; workers fail to provide fall protection for heights above 10 ft; or they incorrectly set up the scaffolding platform, access points, base/foundation or guardrail provisions.