The construction industry will remain a primary focus for OSHA inspectors for the foreseeable future, judging from information contained in the agency’s fiscal year 2019 annual performance report.
OSHA intends to focus its efforts within the industry toward falls – the leading cause of death in construction – and trenching hazards.
The report, which is packaged with the president’s FY 2021 budget proposal, indicates:
- falls continue to be the No. 1 violation cited by OSHA
- OSHA exceeded its abatement target for trenching hazards, but improvement is still needed
- streamlined investigative procedures led to an increase in completed whistleblower cases in FY 19.
More inspections targeting fall hazards
A 2018 Office of Inspector General report pointed out OSHA’s need to use its limited resources to address construction hazards, and the agency seems to have taken that criticism seriously.
Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry and account for 20% of all serious injuries, and OSHA has national and local emphasis programs to address the hazard with 10,570 inspections in FY 19 as a result of those programs.
Because of the inspections, 8,096 fall-related hazards were abated in FY 19 – 95 more than in 2018.
However, despite surpassing its target goal of abating 7,810 fall hazards, the number of inspections completed was limited by resources and other priorities.
OSHA plans to implement more resources on fall hazards in FY 21, with more inspections, enforcement emphasis and outreach programs and compliance assistance focused on fall-related hazards.
Bigger focus on trenching hazards
The agency also stepped up its inspection efforts toward trenching and excavation to abate 2,710 hazards, beating its 2,572 target goal in FY 19 and surpassing FY 18’s 2,324 goal.
But OSHA feels general awareness on trenching and excavation hazards still needs improvement, despite its already “substantial outreach efforts.”
With that in mind, the agency’s FY 21 plans include supporting trench safety stand down events and distributing materials and other resources on trenching and excavation safety.
The agency wants to work with industry associations and the public utilities that typically require trenching work to create a public-private effort to impact trenching-related fatalities.
OSHA is also setting a more ambitious goal for trenching and excavation inspections, looking to achieve a 12% improvement over FY 17’s abatement target of 2,338 by targeting workplaces with a greater potential of having trenching and excavation hazards.
Improved whistleblower investigations
OSHA completed 3,091 whistleblower investigations in FY 19 – compared to 2,929 in FY 18 – awarding more than $16 million to complainants and reinstating 34 workers.
This was the result of continued use of the agency’s administrative closure procedure and implementation of new, streamlined investigative procedures which led to increased efficiency in processing cases.
To improve upon 2019’s numbers, the FY 21 budget proposal includes funding for additional OSHA staff, including 10 full-time equivalent positions to hire more whistleblower investigators.