Compliance departments are certainly familiar with in-office safety training, but what about when the office doesn’t exist yet? The construction industry, while a hot job market at the moment, has one unfortunately common risk: worksite injuries and even deaths. Bradley M. Sussman and Christopher Ward of K2 Integrity explore what owners and developers need to know about worker safety and compliance.
The construction industry and federal, state and local government oversight agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), continuously seek to provide a safe workplace for construction workers. OSHA, for example, created and regularly updates its outreach training, and regularly works on National Emphasis Programs, that focus on a wide range of topics and industries, including construction.
This oversight is being strained by an increase in construction activity that’s placing demands on contractors and workers to complete projects on time and on budget. This often leads to shortcuts when it comes to construction safety, procedures and protocols so that projects can be completed more quickly.
In addition to engaging with contractors and workers to promote a safe working environment, compliance and enforcement remain a key part of OSHA’s tool kit. To reflect this, DOL increased the maximum and minimum amounts for civil penalties in an effort to positively influence the behavior of repeat offenders.
Even so, OSHA continues to levy substantial fines on contractors. Furthermore, statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics continue to show no decrease in workplace injuries in construction. And OSHA continues to add companies to its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
As another layer of protecting worker safety at construction sites, various local district attorneys, for example in New York City, investigate accidents and, where possible, obtain an indictment and conviction against responsible parties. Construction companies, owners and developers need to consider the potential risk of such enforcement actions when developing compliance programs.
Implementing a compliance program
How can owners and developers that are investing a large amount of money into projects help ensure that insufficient oversight and inadequate safety controls don’t place that investment at risk? Many rely upon the contractors that they work with to accomplish these goals. Such a compliance program could include:
- Clearly defined and delineated provisions for compliance in contractual documents.
- Clear contractual provisions requiring contractors to provide workers with OSHA outreach training about the numerous hazards of working in the construction industry.
- Including the provision of safety information, such as experience modification rate in contractor proposals, so that safety can be an evaluation criteria for the award of work.
- Clearly defined roles and responsibilities on site so that compliance can be effectively managed and mitigation, if necessary, can be implemented in a timely manner.
- Implementation of a hotline so that workers can report (anonymously if requested) unsafe work conditions or other concerns.
- Performance of audits at the project level to assure compliance with established controls.
- Clearly established metrics that allow companies and owners to track and monitor safety at their projects.
- Establishing regular check-ins (e.g., on a quarterly basis) with contractors to:
- Share details on metrics and KPIs
- Provide positive and constructive feedback
- Share best practices and new areas of focus
- Providing feedback at the end of a project on a contractor’s safety performance.
- The use of metrics and other KPIs to establish shortlists or pools of contractors to work with on projects.
Not only is safety compliance mandatory, but it also benefits organizations in multiple ways. Effective safety compliance programs can reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, improve productivity and enhance a company’s reputation. Companies that successfully implement such programs create a culture of safety that benefits both their employees and their bottom line.