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Posted by Stephanie on April 22, 2024

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is crucial to the construction industry, and all other workplaces in the U.S. Congress created OSHA to ensure employers maintain safe and healthy conditions for their employees. OSHA sets comprehensive standards that are regularly updated and enforced. When a company violates these standards, OSHA assesses a fine ranging from a few thousand dollars to over $150,000.

OSHA maintains exhaustive construction standards that ensure workplace safety. These standards include training requirements for personnel who work on construction sites. Keep in mind that individual states can set stricter guidelines. OSHA standards act as a “federal” floor that every state must adhere to. Since OSHA was started in 1970, it has substantially reduced injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. This guide comprehensively explains OSHA construction standards and their various aspects.

Background of OSHA Construction Standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established in 1970 by President Richard Nixon as part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. It ensures workers don’t need to choose between their lives and careers.

OSHA has broad authority to assess citations and violations against businesses it believes aren’t adhering to its guidelines. While OSHA standards apply to many different industries and types of work environments, a significant portion involve the construction industry. Over the years, standards have been updated regularly to accommodate the challenges of maintaining safety on a modern construction site.

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For example, technological advancements are regularly made to material handling equipment. OSHA standards must be comprehensive enough to cover these advancements and the new challenges they introduce. Many hazards are unique to construction sites, so they require specific safety protocols. It’s also vital that construction companies meet OSHA standards and remain current on any amendments. As mentioned, the fines for OSHA violations can be expensive.

Overview of OSHA Construction Standards

There are some notable differences between construction-specific standards and general industry ones. By following highly detailed guidelines from OSHA, construction workers can more effectively avoid injury or death while working on a project. For example, OSHA’s construction-specific standards for fall protection involve falls from surfaces at least six feet higher than a lower level. The standards apply to:

  • Working or walking platforms
  • Roofs
  • Excavation edges
  • Hoist areas
  • Any hazardous elevated surface

The standards also detail guidelines for scaffolds, which include employee training requirements. In comparison, OSHA’s general industry standards for fall protection focus on stairways, ladders, and vehicle-mounted platforms. Remember that OSHA standards are highly detailed and can be applied to nearly any construction project. Some of the other areas that are covered by OSHA construction standards include the following:

  • Quality and safety
  • Confined spaces
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Illumination and lighting
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Stairways and ladders
  • Hazardous materials
  • Accident prevention tags and signs

To better understand how comprehensive OSHA guidelines are, consider their rules about personal protective equipment (PPE). While many general industry PPE requirements are the same as the construction industry guidelines, some apparent differences exist. For example, 1926: Subpart E states that construction crews performing on elevated spaces must wear respiratory protection, harnesses, and hard hats.

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Recent Technical Amendments to OSHA Construction Standards

Since the OSHA guidelines were published more than 50 years ago, regular updates must be made to avoid errors. These updates often come in technical amendments designed to make small but significant changes to existing rules. These amendments can involve:

  • Corrections of typographic errors
  • Changes to outdated references
  • Nomenclature and address updates

1910.4(b) states that the Assistant Secretary of Labor can take action to eliminate conflicts in OSHA guidelines, including modifying or renovating a standard in Part 1910.

OSHA has made several amendments over the past decade. They recently updated references and terminology involving the International Labour Organization (ILO). These updates centered around asbestos standards in the construction industry. OSHA replaced the “roentgenogram” with “X-ray” to better reflect modern terminology.

OSHA has updated regulatory authorities and agency names and corrected tables regarding rated capacities and decompression times. Even a tiny error increases the risk of injury due to inadequate standards.

warehouse supply planning

Essential Sections of OSHA Construction Standards

If you wish to know “What are the OSHA construction standards also called?”, they are referred to as Part 1926 and Part 1910. In Part 1910 alone, companies must abide by well over 500 standards and subparts. The following delves into some of the most critical sections of OSHA construction standards.

Respiratory Protection (29 CFR 1910.134)

Part 1910.134 deals entirely with respiratory protection for construction workers. These guidelines have been written to control occupational diseases that can be caused by inhaling air that’s polluted with:

  • Mists
  • Smokes
  • Vapors
  • Fumes
  • Fogs
  • Dust
  • Gases

They outline how companies must accept engineering control measures as often as possible. For example, toxic materials need to be substituted with safer ones. If engineering controls aren’t feasible, the employer must obtain respirators. If a respirator is required to protect an employee’s health, the employer must provide it. The employer is also responsible for maintaining the equipment.

This section details standard respiratory terms that employers must know. For instance, it states that an air-purifying respirator is a device that includes a purifying cartridge, canister, or filter to remove specific air contaminants.

Toxic and Hazardous Substances (Subpart Z)

The toxic and hazardous substances portion of OSHA’s standards details requirements for safely handling many different chemicals and air contaminants. Some of the substances that are covered by this subpart include the following: 

  • Methyl chloromethyl ether
  • Coal tar pitch volatiles
  • Benzidine
  • Ethyleneimine
  • Vinyl chloride
  • 4-Aminodiphenyl

Each contaminant comes with exposure limits that companies must follow.

Material Handling and Slings (29 CFR 1910.184)

Part 1910.184 provides guidelines on how to use slings alongside other types of equipment to hoist items and materials. This part covers slings made from wire rope, synthetic or natural fiber rope, alloy steel chain, metal mesh, and synthetic web.

Underground Construction and Compressed Air (Subpart S)

Part 1926 also includes Subpart S, which involves underground construction and compressed air. For example, at least one experienced professional must always be present when using compressed air. One aspect of Subpart S applies to constructing shafts, passageways, chambers, and underground tunnels. It also applies to excavations that are connected to underground construction projects.

Implications for Construction Companies and Workers

OSHA construction standards are exhaustive, which makes it difficult to avoid mistakes. However, complying with these standards is a legal requirement. If you adhere to the safety regulations that have been set for construction companies, you’ll benefit from:

  • Better product quality and higher productivity rates
  • Lower costs with accident prevention
  • Fewer lost workdays
  • Limited product loss and equipment damage

You’ll also be able to keep your workers safe and healthy by:

  • Preventing serious incidents
  • Identifying and removing hazards
  • Improving employee morale
  • Creating alert employees eager to maintain worksite safety for themselves and their coworkers.

Implementing employee training programs to raise awareness of OSHA standards is highly recommended. Every person you employ should know OSHA’s construction standards before they begin working at your facility. Remember that the consequences of not complying with OSHA regulations can be severe. A single violation can come with a one-time fine of over $16,000. However, failing to correct the issue after receiving a citation comes with a daily fine of $16,000. If you repeat a violation, the fine can increase to over $160,000.

Warehouse Dock Doors

Resources for Understanding and Implementing OSHA Construction Standards

You can learn more about OSHA construction standards and how to implement them by navigating to the OSHA website. OSHA also offers an Outreach Training Program that educates employees about typical health hazards and how to avoid them. After completing this training program, students can receive a 10-hour- or 30-hour certification card.

If your construction company is getting ready to work on a major project, consider requesting consultation services and support from businesses that can help you avoid OSHA fines. The costs of obtaining these services should be much lower than the fines OSHA can levy when you make a mistake.

Conclusion

OSHA’s construction standards are strict to ensure workers remain safe when working on elevated surfaces or operating material handling equipment. Your personnel must know how to navigate numerous hazards when working on a construction site, which is why you must prioritize safety. Stay current on changes to OSHA standards to avoid substantial fines, reduce site injuries, and ensure your company complies.

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