OSHA Construction Versus General Industry Safety Standards

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 served to create Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is the agency that oversees the working conditions of most workplaces in the country.

This agency sets standards and enforces them, as well as providing education, outreach, training, and assistance with compliance. The standards set forth by the Administration cover four main categories, which are maritime, general industry, agriculture, and construction.

All employers must provide work environments that are safe and free from potential hazards. While the general industry standards apply to all workplaces, industry specific standards take precedence over the general ones when they relate to hazards that are identical.

Requirements such as hazard communication and personal protective equipment (PPE) are applicable to all industries.

Cited Standards and Accident Statistics

The general industry and construction sectors have consistently been the most cited for over 10 years. The construction industry is particularly hazardous to workers; over 1,000 workers in construction suffer fatalities on the job annually, and 400,000 workers in the industry experience work-related illnesses or injuries. Information made available by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that from the year 1993 to the year 2013, the construction industry has sustained an average of 11.68 deaths for every 100,000 construction workers. This is 3.3 times more than the average fatality rate in all other industries combined.   

Protection From Falls

According to OSHA construction industry standards, employees working at six feet or higher must be provided with fall protection. The general industry standard mandates that runways must be guarded by railings at four feet or higher. While a construction standard does not allow body belts to serve as fall protection, the general industry does not have a similar standard. Since falls, slips, and trips are not yet addressed in terms of fall protection (but are some of the primary causes of fatalities and injuries in the workplace), OSHA is creating a rule that will address this issue.  

Working in Confined Spaces

The Administration’s construction industry standard on confined spaces mandates certain requirements regarding the protection of workers on worksites with confined spaces. This standard is not applicable to diving operations, underground construction, or excavations. This standard is similar to the ones created for the general industry sector; however, there are some differences that relate to the construction industry. Those differences include provisions that are more specific when multiple employers have access to a single site. Additionally, a qualified individual must evaluate a worksite, as well as identify permit and confined spaces. Atmospheric monitoring must be continual whenever possible, and monitoring of engulfment hazards must be continuous. The suspension of a permit may be allowed instead of a permit cancellation. When workers enter a space without utilizing a complete permit system, employers must isolate or eradicate physical hazards. In situations where employers must depend on local emergency services, such emergency responders are required to tell the employers if they may not be able to respond within a specific time frame. Employers must also provide training in languages that their employees understand.

Personal Protective Equipment

The standards for personal protective equipment (PPE) in the general industry and construction industry are similar, but they address different types of protective equipment. The general industry standards on PPE are more specific than the ones for the construction industry. The standards for construction include requirements related to safety nets, body belts, lanyards, and lifelines. They also cover worksites over or on water.    

Ladders and Stairways

Construction workers must be given training on proper safety procedures regarding ladders and stairways. The general industry standards do not require such training for workers. The construction industry standard is that fixed ladders must be equipped with ladder safety devices, wells, cages, and lifelines that self-retract when a climb is lower than 24 feet, but the top part of the ladder is higher than 24 feet over the lower levels. If a climb is higher than 24 feet, fixed ladders must be equipped with either lifelines that self-retract, ladder safety devices, or rest platforms at intervals of 150 feet or less (or a well or a cage), and multiple ladder sections may not be longer than 50 feet. The general industry standard is that fixed ladders must be accompanied by wells or cages when the ladders are higher than 20 feet, but they may not be over 30 feet in such cases. Fixed ladders on water tanks or towers, as well as chimney ladders that are higher than 20 feet in height that is unbroken, can be equipped with safety devices like friction brakes, lifebelts, and sliding attachments instead of cages.   

Fire Extinguishers

At every 3,000 square feet, fire extinguishers that are rated at least 2A must be provided. Portable fire extinguishers must be provided to employees; they may be provided based on the types of workplace fires that might reasonably be expected, as well as the degree and size of such fire classes.

Signs and Tags for Accident Prevention

When work is being performed in the construction industry, an accident prevention tag or sign must always be visible. Once the hazard does not exist, signs must be either covered or removed from the area. The general industry standard does not require the obscuring of signs once the hazard is no longer there.

Eye Washes

Within 25 feet of any battery changing area of a site, there must be a body flushing and eye wash facility. The general industry standard differs in that eye wash must be found at the same level of the potential hazard, and it must also be accessible within 10 seconds of need.

Worksite Illumination

Construction site standards are quite specific in terms of illumination, but the standards for the general industry sector do not generally involve such specific requirements. Light meters may enable an easier assessment of how an area is illuminated.

Safety standards are vital to the well-being of workers. Employers must ensure that worksites are properly equipped for safety. They must also be sure that their workers are sufficiently trained in maintaining safety in the workplace.   

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