Contractors may need to increase their awareness of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements, and prepare for a visit. The agency said it’s stepping up its safety inspections.

As part of its continuing efforts to increase its pressure on OSHA, the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing recently to examine whether the administration is adequately enforcing construction safety rules. The committee focused on high-profile crane accidents in New York City and Las Vegas.

OSHA Assistant Secretary Edwin Foulke pointed out OSHA’s current initiatives to improve workplace safety. To address the four most common causes of occupational fatalities in the construction industry (falls, “struck bys,” “crushed bys,” and electrocutions), the administration implemented various programs that focus on enforcement, training, and collaboration with employers, organizations, and state officials.

Foulke said that increases in the number of citations, penalties, and criminal referrals, along with an 18 percent decline in the construction fatality rate since 2001, indicated that the approach is working.

A recent Webinar from the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) reviewed types of OSHA inspections and what mechanical contractors need to do to prove their compliance. The Webinar was presented by Adele L. Abrams, of the Law Office of Adele L. Abrams, PC.

According to Abrams, inspections can either be unplanned or triggered by events. They all have three parts: the opening conference/records review, site visit and interviews, and a closing conference. Civil penalties can range from $7,000 to $250,000, depending on severity and repeat offenses. Imprisonment is a possibility in cases of fatality.

Having formal, written safety programs is one of the best ways to be prepared for an OSHA visit, Abrams said. Associations like SMACNA offer multiple safety-related resources. If you opt to have your safety program audited, be prepared to act upon the auditor’s recommendations.

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Publication date:10/26/2009