How to ensure OSHA compliance

Story first appeared in The Remodelers Journal.

Three employees were setting up scaffolding on the side of a building. One employee was on the scaffolding, while the other two were handling 10-foot railings and tow boards to build the structure. As the two men on the ground were getting more boards, the third on the scaffolding started to scrape the edge of a window they were preparing to replace. Within moments, an OSHA inspector was citing a violation for working on a building with an incomplete scaffold set-up.

This was OSHA’s first visit to his job site in 40 years, according to Don Van Cura Sr., MCR, CKBR, GCP, CLC, UDCP, president of Don Van Cura Construction, based in Chicago. He was shocked, troubled and most of all, imminently aware of the harsh reality of the issues contractors are facing today.

“Contractors need to be aware of OSHA—they are not busy with new construction and commercial work, and they have changed their focus to remodeling,” Van Cura says.

An OSHA violation seemed so far from Van Cura’s list of worries. He took great lengths to ensure his company was within the OSHA guidelines and, of course, that all his employees were safe.

All of Van Cura’s employees have been through OSHA’s 10-hour Construction Industry Outreach trainings, and he mandates that at least one employee per work site has the 30-hour course under his/her belt. Van Cura documents every step of his job site with photos and required documentation. He even has a written safety plan that all those working for him must read and sign.

He even devotes time toward updating that safety plan regularly. “We have a safety committee that holds monthly meetings to update the safety plan and make changes as needed,” he says.

Still, Van Cura fell victim to OSHA’s grip, and he wants other NARI members to learn from his experience.

“Don’t ignore these [OSHA] regulations,” he says, you have to plug away at it, keep learning more and make it right.”

In general, when it comes to compliance, Van Cura uses common sense. “I’m going to protect people no matter what,” he says.

If something seems dangerous to his employees or the homeowners, he is going to do something about it.

After receiving his violation, Van Cura met with an OSHA inspector in Illinois.

“I brought every photo and document related to that job, our material safety and data sheets, our employee safety plan and a report conducted by our insurance auditor to that meeting and presented my case,” he says. “Needless to say, he was very impressed with the systems that we had in place.”

Van Cura equates OSHA inspectors to police officers—a police officer may let you go with a warning if you show respect and concern for the law.

“Their function is to penalize people for OSHA violations, but as a company that follows a detailed safety plan, I was equipped with the tools to plea my case to the inspector at the drop of a hat,” Van Cura says.

In the end, OSHA greatly reduced the penalty for the violation. OSHA showed leniency on him when they saw the care he places toward safety and following regulations. They were also impressed with Van Cura’s long list of NARI certifications, as they recognize continuing education programs as another form of safety training.

It was obvious that Van Cura was not ignorant of OSHA regulations, and he wasn’t a careless employer. But, had Van Cura had prior violations or a record of injured employees on his payroll, he isn’t sure he would have gotten off easily.

Protect yourself from OSHA violations

There are a few things remodelers can do to reduce their risk of violating OSHA regulations. First, OSHA funds a nationwide On-Site Consultation Program through state agencies, aimed at assisting employers in being OSHA-compliant.

“The program is aimed at helping small to medium-sized businesses identify potential hazards and learn ways to rectify those hazards,” says Jerry Cunningham, safety supervisor at the Illinois Onsite Safety & Health Consultation Program, in the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The free consultation process involves an onsite visit with a consultant. He or she reviews record-keeping logs, first aid logs and accident reports and written safety plans involving hazard-specific programs.

Then the consultant conducts a walk-through of the job site. It is at that time that the consultant appraises the environmental hazards, mechanical hazards, work practices, job safety and health program.

“Construction sites change rapidly, so many times the identified deficiencies are rectified immediately,” Cunningham says. In this situation, the walk-through becomes more of a learning process for employees who are involved on that work site.

According to Cunningham, the most common OSHA violation involves fall protection, which, in his opinion, is the most critical to a safe worksite.

“Fall protection is critical because it involves fatalities, yet it is commonly violated because those protections are not needed in the actual work process, and it takes discipline to enforce the safety practices,” he says.

He adds most of the time this is a matter of strong or weak leadership. “When I see a problem on a work site, the first question I ask is, ‘Who’s in charge?’”

Competent leadership is the key to enforcement of OSHA standards in the rest of the employees, he says.

Following the evaluation process, business owners are given a report of the findings and action requirements to rectify cited problems. Depending on the scope of the identified deficiencies, the business owner typically has 30 days to rectify them.

The program carries a no-fault, no-penalty condition on the business owner, and consultations are kept confidential from OSHA. However, if a business owner refuses to eliminate an identified hazard, the consultant has the authority to contact an OSHA enforcement officer.

According to the OSHA Website, 28 percent of the onsite consultations during the first quarter of 2011 were in the construction industry sector.

In addition to organizing a consultation, business owners should implement a safety and health program in their companies.

A program outlines safety plans and procedures at the company and contains documentation of following those procedures. It is usually a written document that is updated regularly to refine the safety systems as they can be improved or based on OSHA regulation changes. Employees are usually involved in the writing and the updating of this plan, as their experience in the work site is the foundation for the plan content.

A written plan identifies job site supervisors who are responsible for inspecting the job site for hazards. That person also should have completed the 30-hour OSHA training course.

Other documented items in the plan include:

  • Personal protection equipment
  • Pre-jobsite setup plan
  • OSHA safety training for employees
  • Documentation and actual site photos
  • Emergency action plan
  • Chemical hazard list
  • Record-keeping of occupational injuries or illness
  • A hazard communication plan

The leading hazards on construction sites involve fall protection, stairways and ladders, scaffolding, electrical, trenching and excavation and motor vehicle safety and highway work zones. OSHA regulations cover a wide area of your business and should be reviewed regularly for updates to those rules. The best way to find out more information on OSHA is by visiting www.OSHA.gov. For more information on compliance standards in your state and to contact your state’s On-Site Consultation Program provider, visit www.osha.gov/dcsp/compliance_assistance/index.html.—Morgan Zenner

NARI asked OSHA to weigh in on its regulations and how remodelers can best achieve safety on jobsites. This Q&A with the agency covers everything from OSHA’s Lead Regulations to new Fall Protection Regulations.

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