The Occupation Safety and Health Administration, frequently referred to by its acronym, OSHA, is an agency of the United States Department of Labor which was established under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. OSHA’s role as a government agency is to protect workers in all industries from unsafe conditions, workplace hazards, and to promulgate rules, regulations, and resources to further that goal.
Over the years, they have developed a series of specific rules and regulations which govern just about every activity on an active construction site. In the vast majority of accidents, fatal or otherwise, there are OSHA standards which are not adhered to.
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What are the most frequently cited safety and health violations?
The most frequently cited OSHA safety violations involve a failure to provide adequate protective gear (such as fall and respiratory protection), failure to provide adequate training or instructions to employees about their environment and equipment, and a failure to communicate between different teams working on the same job site. According to the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, the top 10 violation citations are:
Fall Protection, residential construction (1926.501(b)(13))
Fall Protection, guard rails (1926.501(b)(1))
Training Certification (1926.503(b)(1))
Training Program (1926.503(a)(1))
Ladders, portable (1926.1053(b)(1))
Hazard Communication, written program (1910.1200(e)(1))
Fall Protection, low-slope roofs (1926.501(b)(10))
Head Protection (1926.100(a))
Fall Protection, steep roofs (1926.501(b)(11))
General Safety and Health Provisions (1926.20(b)(2))
What are the penalties for OSHA violations?
There are six specific violation categories set by the Occupation Safety and Health Administration. Each type of violation carries either a recommended or mandatory penalty. They are:
De Minimis Violations – The least severe of the OSHA violations, a de minimis violation is a technical violation of OSHA rules that have no direct impact on health or safety. Inspectors do not levy fines or issue citations for these violations. Inspectors verbally inform employers about de minimis violations and list them on the employer’s case inspection file. For example, if a ladder has 13 inches between rungs rather than the 12 inches dictated by OSHA, this would be a de minimis violation.
Other-than-Serious Violations – A violation of OSHA rules that would not usually cause death or serious injury but that is nevertheless related to job safety or employee health is considered an other-than-serious violation. According to the United States Department of Labor, the maximum penalty for each such violation is $13,494. However, inspectors can choose not to levy a fine, or to reduce the penalty by as much as 95 percent. Inspectors make decisions about penalties based on factors such as the size of the business and the cooperativeness of its owner. Failure to provide copies of safety regulations and failure to post required documentation in work areas are considered other-than-serious violations.
Serious Violations – When an employer knows of or should know of a situation that has a definite chance of causing serious injury or death, but does not remedy it, OSHA issues a serious violation. Inspectors must assess OSHA fines of up to $13,494 for each serious violation, but they can adjust penalties based upon the seriousness of each particular violation, as well as the employer’s previous history, the size of the business, and the good faith of the employer. Failure to ensure that employees who carry heavy loads wear steel-toe boots is an example of a serious violation.
Willful Violations – The most serious violation category is willful violations, and it is reserved for intentional OSHA violations of rules or situations that show disregard for employee health and safety. According to Health Leaders Media, the minimum penalty for each willful violation is $9,639 and the maximum fine is $134,937. If an employee is killed, the maximum fine is $10,000, six months imprisonment, or both. Occupational Health and Safety Magazine shares that more and more state prosecutors are also pressing criminal charges in these cases. An example of a serious violation might involve a fatal crushing accident because the employer did not implement adequate safety procedures for equipment that had caused prior crushing injuries.
Repeated Violations – If an employer is cited for a particular violation, and a subsequent inspection reveals another identical or very similar violation, inspectors may cite the employer for a repeated violation. The maximum fine for a repeated violation is $134,937. However, if the employer contests the original violation and is awaiting a final decision, inspectors cannot consider a violation of the same type to be a repeated violation.
Failure to Abate Prior Violations – When an employer receives a violation citation, the citation includes a date by which the employer must remedy the situation. If the employer does not do so on or before the specified date, it may be liable for a fine of $13,494 per day from the day after the specified date until it remedies the condition.
Working in the construction industry in the United States is one of the most dangerous occupations. Based on data from 2018 by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 11 out of every 100,000 construction workers will die each year while on the job. While transportation accidents lead as the most common way for workers to get injured, fatally or otherwise, construction industry accidents are never far behind. In fact, in 2018, three percent of construction workers were injured at work and with some requiring time off to seek medical treatment and heal from their injuries.
For instance, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40% of all fatal work-related accidents involved transportation accidents. However, common construction industry hazards, such as slips and falls; accidents involving machinery; exposure to harmful substances or environments; and fires/explosions made up for approximately 45% of all other fatal accidents in 2018.
While many of these types of accidents can occur off of a construction site, such as in a factory or warehouse, the point remains that the most common construction accidents make up a substantial percentage of the fatal work-related accidents in the United States every year.
What are the most common types of construction accidents?
According to OSHA, there are four types of accidents in the construction industry that are the leading cause of fatalities. These are known as the “Fatal Four.” Leading the Fatal Four is falls which accounts for nearly 34% of all fatal construction site accidents. Falls from fixed ladders, specifically, are one of the most common ones. Eliminating the four types of accidents alone would save nearly 600 lives per year.
OSHA’s “Fatal Four” Construction Accidents
The Fatal Four types of construction accidents include:
1. Falls – account for nearly 34% of all fatal construction site accidents. Falls are the leading cause of fatalities on construction sites. Workers fall off of scaffolding or slip off of ladders. Because falls are so common, there are numerous regulations to help prevent these types of accidents. There are harnessing requirements, ladder height requirements, and ladder caging requirements, among others.
2. Struck by Object – over 11% of all construction fatalities occur when a worker is struck by a falling, moving, or swinging object. Construction sites are busy places. Workers are often on different levels of the construction or scaffolding and it is nearly impossible to perfectly secure all tools and materials. For that reason, a falling tool or piece of construction material can easily cause a fatal injury, especially when the injured worker is not wearing proper protective gear.
3. Electrocutions – account for 8.5% of all construction related fatalities. Workers do not need to be electricians to be exposed to dangerous or unsecured wiring on a construction site. More importantly, many electrocutions occur when workers come into contact with a conductive material that is itself in contact with exposed, live wiring. Unfortunately, many workers killed in construction sites due to electrocutions are unaware they were even in danger at the time of their accident.
4. Caught In-Between – This category includes construction workers fatally injured when caught, compressed, or crushed by equipment or by a structural collapse, such as a wall or roof. Construction sites are busy, active places. There are often numerous pieces of heavy machinery moving on a given construction site, and that heavy machinery is often transporting extremely heavy construction materials. This of course leads to many “caught-in-between” accidents where the worker is fatally caught, compressed, or crushed.
What are some common non-fatal construction accidents?
Non-fatal accidents further demonstrate the inherent dangers of construction work. The most common non-fatal construction workplace accidents mirror those listed above, but include: falling object accidents; slip, trip, and fall accidents; scaffolding and ladder accidents; and electrocution accidents.
There are also construction settings that are more likely to result accidents and injuries than others. For example, the most common construction accidents occur when the following work is being performed:
New Home Construction
Plumbing and Electrical Work
How important is fall protection on a construction site?
Of course, in any of the above settings, falls can occur. They are particularly common in new home construction and framing. Many construction workers who are framing will sidestep some of the regulations discussed to increase their efficiency. For that reason, many workers suffer falls when they are walking along narrow or unstable framing. Similarly, roofers suffer an inordinate number of injuries due to falls. Many roofers who are working on steep roofs or are in situations where they are unable to use a harness or proper equipment will suffer a fall and subsequent injuries.
Are vehicular accidents still a threat while working on a construction site?
Despite how dangerous the Fatal Four are, as mentioned before, the most common construction injury is related to transportation. Car accidents are the leading cause of fatal injuries for construction workers in the workplace. Regardless of the work being performed, there are always motor vehicles and industrial trucks present at construction sites and the surrounding areas which unfortunately lead to regular injuries and fatalities.
Are there unions for construction workers?
There are literally hundreds of unions in Illinois. Construction workers are often unionized in Illinois by the specific trade they specialize in. For example, Bricklayers Local 67 represents exclusively bricklayers in the Chicagoland area. Other examples include The International Union of Operating Engineers; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Operative Plasterer’s and Cement Mason’s International Association; and the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers.
Can an attorney help me if I’m in a construction accident?
Whether you’re in a construction union or not, if you’re injured on the job, you need to consult with a Schaumburg construction accident lawyer as soon as possible. Construction accidents are very complex and require expert testimony. Moreover, there are typically multiple persons or companies responsible for an accident. Finally, there are more than one type of claim that can arise from a construction accident. Aside from your typical worker’s compensation claim, you may be able to file a personal injury claim, as well.