Still a problem: Fall-related violations top OSHA’s list

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Every year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration presents a list of the top 10 most-cited violations of the year. For 2015, OSHA placed fall-protection violations at the very top. With over 7,400 violations in the year, fall-protection violations outnumbered all other categories such as respiratory protection, hazard communication and machine guarding. According to Safety+Health Magazine, a publication of the National Safety Council, the majority of these violations came from the residential construction industry.

Where the problem lies
Fall-protection codes are mostly concerned with employees who work on surfaces six feet or more above the ground with an unprotected edge. Thus construction workers are most likely to encounter situations covered by these OSHA-enforced laws. But why is there a discrepancy between the number of violations in residential construction as opposed to commercial construction?

BuilderOnline reported that one problem lies in the reporting processes of the construction industry. For example, in 2007, the chief economist of the Associated General Contractors of America (ACG) discovered a problem with the employment numbers being reported to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). He found that the commercial construction industry was simultaneously posting increases in production and decreases in employment. Unless something very odd was going on, such numbers shouldn't have been possible. After some investigation, the conclusion was reached that residential contractors were shifting their focus to commercial projects – while remaining, on paper, strictly residential. This was, of course, at the beginning of the housing collapse.

There has always been some overlap between residential and commercial construction, but with the housing bubble officially popped, more experienced workers are moving into other areas of construction. This leaves inexperienced and untrained workers to do the housing work. According to the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America, the industry treats house construction as a gateway to better work, meaning many of the jobs are going to employees with little or no training.

Solving the problem
The majority of violations are due to a lack of hand rails, hole covers and stable platforms, according to OSHA. In some cases employers did not provide these safety precautions because they did not believe the platform was high enough to cause harm. However, even a fall from a low height can cause serious damage if the person's head comes in contact with the floor or other blunt object.

"A lack of handrails has been a major problem."

To mitigate falling hazards, managers and supervisors must make safety their top priority by being completely aware of all OSHA guidelines and codes. That means installing the proper guardrails and covering or marking any holes where someone might accidentally step. Unfortunately, many violations are caused not by ignorance of the codes but by willful ignorance of them. This means that residential construction workers should take it upon themselves to become familiar with safety procedures. To protect themselves, constructions workers may even have to go so far as to buy their own equipment, such as a sturdy pair of boots or safety shoes with a slip-resistant sole.

It might not be fair to the employee to have take on such responsibilities, but in an industry with the highest rate of OSHA violations, one can never be too careful.

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