Whether you’re thinking in terms of technology, scientific knowledge, or health, there’s no denying that we’ve come a long way over the past fifty years.  Safety in the construction industry is no exception.

The most significant event occurring over the past fifty years that has resulted in safety improvements both in construction and general industry was the signing of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970 by President Richard Nixon. This law resulted in the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as well as the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

OSHA Standards

Initially, OSHA regulations were based on national consensus standards and began to take effect in 1971. The first standard specific to construction, however, was issued on November, 23, 1972. Since then, a number of standards affecting the construction industry have been developed. While it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss each covered topic in detail, major categories include:

o Personal protective and lifesaving equipment
o Fire protection and prevention
o Materials handling
o Hand and power tools
o Welding and cutting
o Electrical
o Scaffolding
o Fall protection
o Concrete and masonry construction
o Steel erection
o Stairways and ladders
o Cranes and derricks

The complete list of covered topics and related narrative can be easily accessed on the OSHA website.

Part 1926 contains the construction regulations with part 1910 being for general industry. However, whether one is involved in the construction business or another industry, it is necessary to refer to both, as there is a considerable amount of overlap between the two.

Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that states can, and often do, have requirements that are more stringent than the federal regulations. Twenty-seven states and territories currently operate state plans that are OSHA-approved.

ANSI Standards

Contributions from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have had a positive impact on safety over the past fifty years as well through the development of standards to which equipment manufacturers must adhere.

Examples include criteria for safety glasses and fall protection equipment. ANSI standards normally go into much more detail than the OSHA regulations. OSHA will incorporate them by reference into its own standards in many cases.

Safety as Good Business

Technological advancements have resulted in the reduction of hazards through more effective engineering controls and substitution of hazardous products with safer alternatives.

In addition, companies have begun to understand that an effective safety program makes good business sense. Robust safety procedures often carry over into other disciplines and positively impact things such as quality, productivity and cost control.

Hiring With Safety In Mind

Looking at a contractor’s safety record when making hiring decisions can save a company a considerable amount of future grief. For example, negative publicity resulting from a serious injury that occurs on the property, even though the injured person was a contractor’s employee, can be difficult to overcome.

During construction activities, the regulatory agencies will consider the facility a multi-employer work site and can hold both companies accountable for any safety violations. Any citations issues could result in a significant financial impact in addition to negative public relations.

A review of the prospective contractor’s OSHA 300 log, on which any significant injuries must be recorded, can provide a quick overview of how the contractor incorporates safety into the day to day operations. An unusually large amount of entries or multiple entries for the same type cause can raise a red flag that something is amiss.

Information regarding citations and fines levied by OSHA against the contractor are a matter of public record and can usually be found through a web search. When it comes to hiring a construction contractor, a small amount of due diligence up front can save a lot of regret later.

Jason Kane is an advocate of workplace safety in all industries. He is a blogger for Federal Steel Supply, Inc., the preferred choice of the global community since 1979.