Falls, Electrical, Scaffold, and Rigging Violations as Top Cited Hazards

October 13, 2008

Fall hazards were the most frequently cited violation found at New York City construction sites by OSHA during a two-week enhanced enforcement effort this past summer.

As part of its New York City construction safety task force, OSHA tasked 12 inspectors to conduct 96 safety inspections at 46 construction sites throughout the city from June 23 to July 3. The sites were randomly selected to encompass a cross-section of high-risk construction activities including tower cranes, high-rise construction, poured-in-place concrete operations, steel erection, gut-rehab, and other high-risk construction activities.

Citations were issued to 60 contractors for 129 violations with a total of $247,400 in proposed fines. The major categories of violations cited included fall hazards (39), electrical safety (29), scaffolds (17), cranes and rigging (13), welding/gas (10), and 20 other categories covering personal protective equipment (PPE), tools, material handling, concrete, hoists, stairs, and ladders.

“These violations are consistent with the types of hazards we find on far too many jobsites and cannot be written off as the inevitable by-products of an inherently dangerous profession,” said Richard Mendelson, OSHA’s area director in Manhattan. “OSHA will use this information to further hone its inspection targeting, so we can direct our resources to those areas where we can have the most impact.”

On August 7, OSHA conducted a construction stakeholder safety meeting with industry representatives in which the agency analyzed trends in construction safety violations and recommended that all parties involved in New York City construction work to “raise the bar” on safety.

The meeting and the task force are among several OSHA efforts planned or underway to enhance construction safety in the city. These include an ongoing cross-training alliance with the New York City Department of Buildings and sending copies of citations to project owners, developers, employers’ insurers, workers’ compensation carriers, and union training funds to raise awareness of occupational hazards found on city jobsites. In addition, OSHA will conduct a second round of concentrated construction inspections in the future.

“These findings reinforce the need for all parties—employers, developers, building trades, unions, and employees—to work aggressively, effectively, and continuously to minimize construction hazards,” said Robert Kulick, OSHA’s regional administrator in New York. “An effective approach is implementing and maintaining an effective safety and health management system through which employers and employees work together to identify and eliminate work-related hazards.”

OSHA Launches National Initiative on Cranes and Derricks to Promote Safe Construction Crane Operations

The Crane Safety Initiative also builds on a number of steps taken by OSHA earlier this year to raise awareness on crane safety and increase enforcement of the current standards, including launching local emphasis programs in a number of regions to inspect high-rise construction, stakeholder outreach, and additional training on crane safety.

“Three important features of this initiative are that it will provide information and outreach to the construction industry and other stakeholders, offer enhanced resources to OSHA inspectors who address crane safety, and implement a National Emphasis Program on Crane Safety,” Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Edwin G. Foulke Jr. said. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported the 2007 fatality rate was the lowest in recorded history, including a reported 5% reduction in fatalities for the construction industry. This initiative builds upon this successful record.”

Through its agency partners in the construction industry, OSHA will increase awareness of and provide information on how to avoid crane hazards. The agency’s compliance safety and health officers will receive enhanced resources on crane safety. Additionally, the National Emphasis Program will incorporate increased targeted inspections of construction worksites to identify crane hazards and promote compliance with workplace crane safety requirements.

OSHA’s proposed rule on cranes and derricks addresses the key hazards associated with construction cranes and derricks.

New Building Code Revisions Adopt NIST Recommendations From World Trade Center Study

Future buildings—especially tall structures—should be increasingly resistant to fire, more easily evacuated in emergencies, and safer overall thanks to 23 major and far-reaching building and fire code changes approved recently by the International Code Council (ICC) based on recommendations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The recommendations were part of NIST’s investigation of the collapses of New York City’s World Trade Center (WTC) towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

The changes, adopted at the ICC hearings held Sept. 15–21, 2008, in Minneapolis, Minn., will be incorporated into the 2009 edition of the ICC’s I-Codes (specifically the International Building Code, or IBC, and the International Fire Code, or IFC), a state-of-the-art model code used as the basis for building and fire regulations promulgated and enforced by U.S. state and local jurisdictions. Those jurisdictions have the option of incorporating some or all of the code’s provisions but generally adopt most provisions.

“We applaud this historic action by the ICC—and the tremendous effort by NIST and its WTC investigation team that led to it,” Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said. “The lessons learned from the tragic events of 9/11 have yielded stronger building and fire codes for a new generation of safer, more robust buildings across the nation.”

The new codes address areas such as increasing structural resistance to building collapse from fire and other incidents; requiring a third exit stairway for tall buildings; increasing the width of all stairways by 50% in new high-rises; strengthening criteria for the bonding, proper installation, and inspection of sprayed fire-resistive materials (commonly known as “fireproofing”); improving the reliability of active fire protection systems (i.e., automatic sprinklers); requiring a new class of robust elevators for access by emergency responders in lieu of an additional stairway; making exit path markings more prevalent and more visible; and ensuring effective coverage throughout a building for emergency responder radio communications.

Nine additional code change proposals based on the NIST WTC recommendations were not approved for the 2009 edition of the I-Codes.

These proposals address areas such as designing structures to mitigate disproportionate progressive collapse, mandating the use of a nationally accepted standard for conducting wind tunnel tests (routinely used for determining wind loads in the design of tall buildings), limiting the length of horizontal transfer corridors in stairways, installing stairway communication and monitoring systems on specific floors of tall buildings, and requiring risk assessments for buildings with substantial hazard (such as buildings more than 420 feet high with occupant loads exceeding 5,000 persons).

Hazardous Chemical-Related Databases Updated

The National Library of Health (NIH) recently announced that two hazardous chemical-related databases have been updated:

Heat Illness Training Available From California’s Department of Industrial Relations

A manual with easy-to-follow diagrams for training workers on heat stress prevention has been completed and is ready for distribution, announced California’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). The guide will assist outdoor employers who under California law must provide comprehensive training on the subject for their supervisors and outdoor workers.

“This manual provides life-saving information that will help employers train their employees on working safely outdoors in the heat,” California DIR Director John Duncan said. “The information is concise and easy to read. It’s another vital tool that we can add to our heat illness prevention publications that are also available on DIR’s website.”

The booklet is titled, “The Hazards in Agriculture, A Guide for Employers,” and has easy-to-read graphics that can be universally understood by employees regardless of the language they speak.
Employees working in industries that include agriculture, construction, oil/gas drilling, retail/warehousing, and other outdoor professions can be susceptible to heat-illness injuries.

“This summer, there were four confirmed heat-related fatalities. These deaths may have been prevented if the employers had trained their staff correctly, as required by law,” Duncan said. “I highly encourage all employers to obtain a copy and go over info with their employees about necessary precautions when working outdoors.”

The new guide is free and includes:

  • A checklist to inspect your worksite and to identify possible heat hazards before the training is held
  • Complete instructions for teaching workers about heat hazards
  • A daily check list of necessary precautions that need to be put in place before work begins
  • Additional information that includes a Cal/OSHA fact sheet with key information about heat illness and an easy-to-read fact sheet that can easily be copied and distributed to employees

The training guide was a collaborative effort that included the DIR; the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation; and the University of California, Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP). 

Spanish Portable Ladders Guide

Oregon OSHA has announced the availability of a Spanish version of the Portable Ladders Guide that describes key safe work practices for using portable ladders safely.

Campaign Aims to Draw Attention to the Increasing Problem of Antibiotic Resistance

“Get Smart Colorado,” based at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, has launched a public “call to action” campaign to educate the public about the appropriate use and proper disposal of antibiotics to prevent antibiotic resistance.

The campaign consists of English and Spanish information cards containing guidance about the proper use and disposal of antibiotics that are being displayed throughout the month of October at Colorado Safeway pharmacy counters. Radio public service announcements will run through November.

The campaign emphasizes the importance of finishing all antibiotics when they are prescribed for treating bacterial infections, not using antibiotics to treat viral infections, and not using expired medications.

“Using antibiotics improperly can make bacteria resistant to that medication,” said Kelly Kast, coordinator of the “Get Smart Colorado” program. “Infections caused by resistant bacteria can be harder to treat because the usual antibiotics cannot kill the bacteria.”

“We want to encourage everyone to do something to fight antibiotic resistance, and properly disposing of any unused antibiotics is a good first step,” she said.

Joe Schieffelin, Solid and Hazardous Waste Program manager for the Department of Public Health and Environment, advised, “The best approach is to mix unwanted medicine with kitty litter or coffee grounds and dispose of it in your household trash. Do not flush pharmaceuticals down the toilet or pour down the drain,” he said.

State health officials said local wastewater treatment plants do not remove most of the chemicals and compounds in medications, so drugs that get flushed down a drain may be released into rivers and streams.

Another effective approach for disposing of antibiotics recommended by Boulder County Public Health is to keep pills in their original containers and fill the container with household glue. Then remove the label containing personal information and place the container in the trash once the glue has dried.

Government and health care officials have begun discussing pharmaceutical “take back” programs that would allow consumers to return unwanted medicine for safe disposal.

One such “take back” program was held at Boulder Foothills Hospital on Saturday, October 11. “Individuals could drop off prescriptions or over-the-counter medications in pill or liquid form, patches, and inhalers and have them disposed of free of charge,” said Bill Hayes, an engineer at Boulder County Public Health who directed the program.

Another key part of the campaign has to do with the proper use of antibiotics in treating infections. Kast said that these important medications, while critical in treating bacterial infections, are not effective for the vast majority of viral infections, such as viral sore throats and coughs, bronchitis, sinusitis, runny noses, and the regular cold or flu. Yet, tens of millions of antibiotics are prescribed for viral infections.

Survey data suggest that there are opportunities for doctors and other health care professionals to discuss problems with overusing antibiotics with their patients. So, during the campaign, Get Smart Colorado will continue to emphasize wise antibiotic use with physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and physician assistants among others.

“Participation with the campaign will improve communication with patients about this important health concern,” Kast said.

The campaign is a joint effort between state and local health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was launched this past week in observance of national Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, which was held October 6–10. 

October 20–26 is Drug-Free Work Week

Drug-Free Work Week is a dedicated time each year to highlight the benefits that drug-free workplace programs bring to employers, workers, and communities. And, it’s a time to work toward making every week a drug-free work week.

It spreads the word that working drug free:

  • Prevents accidents and makes workplaces safer
  • Improves productivity and reduces costs
  • Encourages people with alcohol and drug problems to seek help

According to recent research, it’s a message that many workers need to hear. About 75% of the nation’s current illegal drug users are employed—and 3.1% say they have actually used illegal drugs before or during work hours, while 79% of the nation’s heavy alcohol users are employed—and 7.1% say they have actually consumed alcohol during the workday.

Drug-free workplace programs help protect employers and employees alike from the potentially devastating consequences of worker alcohol or drug abuse. Establishing policies, educating about the dangers of alcohol and drug use, deterring and detecting use, and urging people to seek help for alcohol and drug problems are smart safety strategies. They’re also smart business strategies.

Drug-Free Work Week is a time to reinforce the importance of working drug free in positive, proactive ways.

MSHA Fines American Coal Company Nearly $1.5 Million

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced it has assessed $1.46 million in fines against American Coal Company’s Galatia Mine in Saline Co., Ill. The mine is a subsidiary of Murray Energy Corp., which is controlled by Robert E. Murray. Nine violations were assessed under the flagrant violation provision of MSHA’s civil penalty regulation.

“American Coal Co. repeatedly demonstrated its failure to comply with basic safety laws over a number of months, and for that it must be held accountable,” said Richard E. Stickler, acting assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

On Sept. 6, 2007, an MSHA inspector observed a maintenance supervisor reach into an energized 480-volt electrical panel while an hourly employee stood next to him. The supervisor’s hand came within inches of an uninsulated lug inside the panel. He stated he was aware that the panel was energized and he “… was just taking a shortcut.” MSHA issued an unwarrantable failure order for failure to de-energize the panel before reaching inside, and the violation was assessed at $161,800. “Shortcuts can cost lives,” Stickler continued.

On Sept. 18, 2007, an MSHA inspector issued a high-negligence unwarrantable failure order to the operator for allowing coal and coal dust to accumulate around the tail roller of a conveyer belt and for failure to remove previous coal and coal dust accumulations from around the tail roller. These conditions, which could create a fire or explosion hazard, were documented in the mine examiner’s book for the four preceding shifts. Less than one week later, an MSHA inspector issued a high-negligence unwarrantable failure order over similar conditions on a different conveyer belt. Two violations for accumulation of combustible materials were assessed at $179,300 and $164,700.

On Nov. 7 and Dec. 5, 2007, an MSHA inspector issued two unwarrantable failure orders for failure to conduct adequate pre-shift examinations. The inspector observed accumulations of combustible materials and obvious loose, broken, and unsupported roof that were neither recorded nor posted with a danger sign. These violations were assessed at $161,800 and $145,800.

On Nov. 8, 2007, an MSHA inspector issued an unwarrantable failure order for failure to support loose and broken roof along an escapeway. The violation was assessed at $158,900.

On Jan. 11, 13, and 24, 2008, MSHA issued three unwarrantable failure orders for accumulations of combustible materials. Two of these violations were assessed at $153,100 each and the third violation was assessed at $188,000.

Hazards at Connecticut Construction Site Lead to Nearly $215,000 in OSHA Fines for Contractor

OSHA has cited Homeland Builders Inc., a Fall River, Mass.-based construction contractor, for alleged willful, repeat, and serious safety hazards at a Milford, Conn., construction site. The company, which previously has been cited for fall hazards at jobsites in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, faces a total of $214,800 in proposed fines, mostly for fall-related hazards at a construction site in Milford.

The citations and fines follow OSHA inspections begun in April after OSHA inspectors on two separate occasions observed fall hazards while driving by the jobsite. Homeland Builders employees were seen working without required fall protection on the roof of the structure and on the raised forks of a powered industrial truck, situations that exposed the employees to falls of 13 to 15 feet.

“The dangers posed by fall hazards cannot be understated. They are the number one killer in construction work,” said Robert Kowalski, OSHA’s area director in Bridgeport. “What’s particularly disturbing is that this employer—who has been cited for fall protection violations in the past—allowed these hazards to continue even in the midst of an ongoing OSHA inspection.”

The inspection also uncovered other fall-related hazards, including lack of fall protection for employees working on a scaffold, lack of scaffold training, inadequate roof and scaffold access, using a materials hoist as a ladder, and ladders of insufficient height. Other identified hazards included lack of eye protection for employees using nail guns, unguarded saws, lack of fire extinguishers, uninspected scaffolds, and not training employees to recognize fall, ladder, and general safety hazards.

Specifically, OSHA issued Homeland Builders three willful citations, with $168,000 in fines, for the roof and forklift fall hazards and for the unguarded saw; five repeat citations, with $30,900 in fines, for lack of scaffold fall protection, inspection and training, ladders of insufficient height and lack of eye protection; and eight serious citations, with $15,900 in fines, for the other access, ladder, and training issues.

OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health. A serious citation is issued when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. Repeat citations are issued when an employer previously has been cited for substantially similar hazards and those citations have become final.

Homeland Builders has 15 business days from receipt of its citations to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. This inspection was conducted by OSHA’s Bridgeport Area Office; telephone 203-579-5581.

N.Y. Auto Parts Manufacturer Faces More Than $145,000 in OSHA Fines

OSHA has cited an East Syracuse, N.Y., automotive parts manufacturer for 65 alleged serious violations of safety standards. New Process Gear, a division of Magna Powertrain, faces a total of $145,350 in proposed fines following an OSHA inspection conducted under a program that targets workplaces with higher than average injury and illness rates.

“These citations address a variety of hazards, which, left uncorrected, expose employees to potential falls, fire, crushing injuries, lacerations, amputations, being caught in the unexpected startup of machinery, or not being able to exit the workplace swiftly in the event of an emergency,” said Christopher Adams, OSHA’s area director in Syracuse. “The sizable fines proposed reflect the breadth and seriousness of the cited conditions.”

The 65 serious citations encompass blocked or impeded exits and aisles, missing or unlit exit signs and inoperable emergency lighting; wet floors; fall hazards from unguarded floor holes, pits, open-sided floors, and ladder openings; damaged or deficient ladders; unsecured or damaged compressed gas cylinders; lack of lockout/tagout training, procedures, inspections, and devices; inaccessible fire extinguishers and hoses; lack of emergency eyewash stations; damaged storage racks; lack of emergency respirator training; several instances of unguarded moving machine parts; numerous electrical safety deficiencies; unlabeled containers of hazardous chemicals; defective forklifts and lack of forklift operator training; defective lifting slings; and hoists and lifting devices not inspected or rated as to their lifting capacity.

OSHA issues a serious citation when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

“New Process Gear needs to take prompt, effective, and ongoing actions to both correct these conditions and prevent them from happening again,” Adams said. “One of the best means of preventing serious workplace hazards is to establish an effective safety and health management system through which management and employees can work together to actively identify, analyze, and eliminate work-related hazards.”

OSHA Fines Wynnewood Refining Co. $91,000 for Safety and Health Violations

OSHA has cited Wynnewood Refining Co. in Wynnewood with three serious and two repeat violations of OSHA standards, and has proposed penalties totaling $91,000 for allegedly failing to protect employees from hazardous working conditions.


OSHA’s Oklahoma City Area Office began its inspection on April 21, following an explosion resulting from the release of flammable liquid and vapor from an open piping system during preparation for maintenance. The facility—which produces gasoline, butane, fuel oils, and asphalt—employs 210 people. The company is a subsidiary of Denver, Colo.-based Gary-Williams Energy Corp.

The three serious violations were for failing to document and implement provisions of OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard concerning equipment deficiencies, operator training, and safe working practices. A serious violation is one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result.

The two repeat violations were for failing to document design codes, written procedures for normal operations, and written procedures for mechanical integrity. The refinery lacked these requirements of the PSM standard with regard to one of the refinery unit’s flare systems. A repeat violation is one in which the same or similar standard was cited within the past three years prior to the current inspection.

Wynnewood Refining has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with the Oklahoma City area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA operates a vigorous enforcement program, having conducted more than 39,000 inspections in fiscal year 2007 and exceeding its inspection goals in each of the last eight years. In fiscal year 2007, OSHA found nearly 89,000 violations of its standards and regulations.

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