Construction is a high hazard industry, with unique situations and hazards, and it employs more than six million workers. Because of this, a separate set of OSHA standards provide safety and health regulations for construction workers. 29 CFR 1926, Safety and Health Regulations for Construction, was established under section 107 of the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act, and provides the standards for construction safety.
Construction work, as OSHA considers it, includes a wide range of activities. In addition to applying to the construction of new structures, the same rules cover the alteration, painting, repair, and demolition of existing structures, as well as other types of assembly, preservation, and maintenance activities.
OSHA lists the following as common hazards for workers in construction:
- Falls from heights
- Trench collapse
- Scaffold collapse
- Electric shock and arc flash/arc blast
- Repetitive motion injuries
The top ten types of contractors that received OSHA citations in 2013, based on the number of citations, were:
- Masonry Contractors - 2,307 citations
- Siding Contractors - 528 citations
- Roofing Contractors - 455 citations
- Framing contractors - 413 citations
- Residential building construction - 355 citations
- Commercial and Institutional Building Construction - 275 citations
- Drywall and insulation contractors - 197 citations
- Finish carpentry contractors - 95 citations
- Painting and wall covering contractors - 79 citations
- All other specialty trade contractors - 71 citations
For fiscal year 2013, the top ten most frequently cited OSHA standards for construction were:
- Duty to have fall protection - 7,895 citations
- Scaffolding - general requirements - 5,117 citations
- Ladders - 3,204 citations
- Fall protection - training requirements - 2,062 citations
- Hazard communication - 1169 citations
- Eye and face protection - 1,150 citations
- Head protection - 1,106 citations
- Fall protection - aerial lifts - 977 citations
- Trenching an excavation requirements - 955 citations
- General safety and health provisions - 938 citations
Let's look at a few ways to improve safety, and reduce the number of citations issued in the construction industry in these top ten areas.
Fall Protection Requirements
There are a number of common situations that lead to fall hazards. These include unstable working surfaces, not using proper fall protection equipment, and simply making mistakes (that is, human error). Falls and the resulting injuries can be prevented by blocking access to fall hazards, using alternative methods for working at heights, and providing protective equipment.
Block access to fall hazards:
- Cover holes in floors and roofs
- Use guardrails near the edges of roofs, floors, and elevated walkways
- Use toe-boards and warning lines near the edges of elevated surfaces
Use alternative methods for working at heights:
- Use aerial lifts
- Use elevated platforms
Provide appropriate protective equipment:
- Fall arrest systems
- Safety nets
- Restraint systems
Scaffolding makes it easy and economical to work on the sides of buildings, or on large equipment. But if scaffolds are not erected or used properly, they can be dangerous. The following are safety requirements for scaffolding. These apply without regard to whether the scaffolding is used outside or inside a structure.
- Scaffolding must be built on a solid, stable surface.
- Unstable objects such as boxes, barrels, concrete blocks, or loose bricks must not be used to support scaffolding.
- Scaffolds may only be erected, dismantled, moved, or altered under the supervision of a trained, competent person.
- A competent person must inspect the scaffolding at regular intervals.
- Scaffold must be sound, rigid, and sufficient to carry its own weight, plus four times the maximum intended load, without damage, settling, or displacement.
- Scaffold must be fully and tightly planked with scaffold grade planking.
- Scaffold must have guardrails, midrails, and toe-boards.
- Damaged scaffolding parts, including planking, must not be used.
- Scaffolding materials may not be altered.
- Suspension scaffolds must be inspected each shift by a competent person. If synthetic or natural rope is used, it must be protected from heat.
- Scaffold training must be provided for workers.
- The training must cover the hazards of using diagonal braces as fall protection.
- Training must cover the proper way to access the scaffold; climbing on the scaffold bracing is not permitted.
- No part of a scaffold may ever have less than ten feet of clearance from electric power lines.
- Unless it is a mobile scaffold specifically designed to be moved, scaffolds may not be moved horizontally while workers are on them.
- Material must not be stored or allowed to accumulate on scaffolds.
- Scaffolds that are covered with snow, ice, or other slippery materials may not be used.
- Workers may not be on scaffolds during bad weather or high winds, unless a competent person has determined that it is safe to use the scaffold in the existing conditions.
- Non-scaffolding materials such as ladders, boxes, or other materials may not be used to increase the work height.
The following OSHA 1910 standards apply to ladders:
- 1926.25 - Portable wood ladders.
- 1926.26 - Portable metal ladders.
- 1926.27 - Fixed ladders.
- 1926.28 - Safety requirements for scaffolding (ladders used to access scaffolding.)
- 1926.29 - Manually propelled mobile ladder stands and scaffolds (towers).
Ladders are commonly used so that workers can access areas that are higher than they can normally reach. OSHA's numbers show that over 24,000 injuries and as many as 36 fatalities per year result from falls from ladders and stairways used in construction. The following safety requirements for ladder use are intended to help reduce these numbers:
- Use the correct ladder for the task.
- The ladder should be long enough to safely reach the work area.
- Never exceed the load rating of the ladder. The full load carried by the ladder should be determined. This includes the combined weight of the user, plus any materials and tools supported by the ladder.
- Do not use ladders that have metal parts near overhead wires.
- A competent person should inspect ladders before they are used.
- Look for structural damage. Check for split or bent side rails; broken or missing rungs, steps, or cleats; and missing or damaged safety devices.
- Look for grease, oil, dirt or other contaminants on the ladder.
- Look for paint, labels, or stickers (except for warning labels) that may be hiding defects.
- Any ladder that is found to be damaged or defective should be immediately destroyed, or prominently marked or tagged “Do Not Use" until it is repaired.
Compliance with OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is required so that employees are informed about hazardous chemicals on the job-site, and about the protective measures that need to be taken. Failure to recognize chemical hazards can result in health problems like respiratory issues and chemical burns, as well as fires and explosions. The following are some of the key requirement of the HCS:
- There must be a written hazard communication program.
- Each container holding a hazardous substance (including vats, tanks, barrels, bottles, etc.) must be labeled to identify the contents and provide a hazard warning, including communicating the specific health and physical hazards.
- Maintain a readily available list of hazardous substances on the job-site.
- Safety Data Sheets (SDS) must be available for all chemicals on the job-site.
- SDSs must be available in all languages used by employees on the job-site.
- Employers must ensure employees follow the manufacturer's instructions for storing and handling hazardous materials.
- Employee training must be provided.
- Employees must be trained on how to read GHS labels and SDSs.
- Employees must be trained concerning the risks of each hazard chemical they are exposed to, and on the protective measures that are to be used.
- Employees must be trained in how to respond to spills, including how to protect themselves.
- Have a written spill control and clean-up plan.
- Spill kits should be available at any location where chemicals are stored.
Eye and Face Protection
Hazards that injure the eyes or face are common. The best approach to protect workers from these hazards is to eliminate the hazard entirely. In construction, there are numerous jobs in which eye and face hazards simply cannot be avoided. In that case, eye and face protection must be provided and used.
- Safety glasses, goggles, and/or an appropriate face shield must be worn any time job conditions might result in objects hitting the face or getting into an eye. Common jobs that require eye protection include nailing, cutting, welding, grinding, and working with any material or process that creates dust.
- Appropriate eye protection and/or a face shield must be worn by workers exposed to electrical hazards.
- Eye and face protection must be appropriate for the anticipated hazard.
Serious injuries can result from blows to the head. These may result from falling objects, walking into a low-clearance object, or by standing up in an area with limited headroom. A hard hat is the most common form of protect against blows to the head.
- Workers must wear hard hats wherever there is the possibility of objects falling from above, bumping into fixed objects, or head contact with electrical power.
- Hard hats must be properly maintained in good condition. They must be regularly inspected for dents, cracks, and deterioration, and must be replaced after a heavy blow or electrical shock.
Trenches and excavations are a significant cause of injuries and fatalities on construction sites, with many injuries resulting from cave-ins while the trench is occupied.
- Never enter an unprotected trench.
- Trenches five feet deep or greater must have a protective system such as:
- Sloping ground
- Benching the ground
- Shoring the trench with planking or hydraulic jacks (for trenches less than 20 feet deep).
- Shielding the trench (using a trench box)
- Trenches must have a way to exit the trench, such as a ladder, at least every 25 feet of horizontal travel.
- All trenches over 20 feet in depth must have protective systems designed by a registered professional engineer.
- Spoils must be kept at least two feet away from the edge of a trench.
- Trenches must be inspected by a competent person:
- Prior to anyone entering the trench.
- After any event that might increase the hazard of being in the trench, such as a rainstorm, vibrations caused by heavy trucks passing close by, or large surcharge loads.