Twelve Workers Won’t Return Home Today’
More than 125 health and safety professionals filled the room at CBIA’s 2016 Safety & Health Conference in Cromwell on May 20.
Throughout the daylong event, however—through breakfast, breakouts, networking, lunch, and closing remarks—as the crowd in the main ballroom swelled, thinned, and regrouped, the table closest to the stage remained empty.
Pointing to the 12 unoccupied chairs, Timothy Irving, assistant regional administrator of cooperative and state programs with the U.S. Department of Labor/Occupational Safety and Health Administration, led off the conference with a sobering statistic.
In 1970, when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed, he said, an average of 38 workers a day were losing their lives on the job.
Since then, the American workforce has doubled while the number of fatalities has decreased by more than two-thirds.
“Is that success?”
Notwithstanding the positive trend, said Irving, “twelve workers will not return home from their jobs today.”
Irving was one of three top local OSHA officials who gave an overview of current workplace safety issues, the agency’s top priorities, and what will change in 2017.
‘We Can’t Be Everywhere’
“By show of hands, how many audience members have had an OSHA inspection in the last five years?” Irving asked.
A significant number of hands went up.
“What about in the last three years?”
Most hands went down.
Hardly any hands were raised.
“We have 2,200 compliance officers across the entire country covering 130 million workers and eight million worksites,” he said.
“This translates into one inspector for every 3,636 worksites and every 59,000 workers.”
“We can’t be everywhere,” said Warren Simpson, Hartford area director for the U.S. Department of Labor/OSHA.
Connecticut has 10 times as many parking enforcement officers as safety compliance officers.
“You are our voice in the workforce,” Simpson said. “We can’t do it alone.”
Robert Kowalski, Bridgeport area director, noted that in fully 25% of inspections, businesses are found to be in compliance, and that when violations are documented, there are typically only two or three—not dozens.
The most common of these haven’t changed in the last ten years, he said, and 52% of the agency’s resources and inspections are directed at the construction industry.
“In general industry, hazard communication is still number one,” he said.
“In construction, the falls, the struck-by, the caught-in-between remain the top problems.”
Hazard communication was also among the top ten violations cited in construction in 2015.
OSHA’s presence in construction is strong, Irving emphasized, because the fatality rate in the field is disproportionately high.
“We need to focus our impact where it’s going to matter most,” he added.
One in five worker deaths in 2014 occurred in the construction field. Of those, 39.9% were caused by falls.
Not a week goes by, said Kowalski, without an “unprogrammed activity.” (Unprogrammed OSHA inspections are those related to accidents or complaints.)
“This week alone, we investigated two fall accidents and a power line strike,” he said.
The Bridgeport office has 10 compliance officers.
Aside from the nature of violations staying the same in recent years, OSHA officials agreed that the problem of repeat offenders is a persistent challenge.
Hartford-based Jarosz Welding, for example, faces $70,000 in penalties for repeat citations related to machine guarding, blocked exits, and failure to abate, said Simpson.
OSHA officials agreed that the problem of repeat offenders is a persistent challenge.
According to Simpson, the company has not paid any of the fines levied against them.
Among retailers, said Kowalski, blocked egress issues are also highly problematic, especially in the peak season.
Recent cases involving discount clothing retailers and dollar stores—Forever 21 and Family Dollar, specifically—are illustrative of the problem.
“These facilities are small. They get a lot of merchandise pushed on them with no place to store it," he said.
"We’re seeing blocked exits during holiday season, because they have no place to stack all those boxes.”
An audience member asked why OSHA’s website focuses primarily on residential construction—home improvement contractors, remodelers, builders, and trades—rather than commercial.
“We’re finding on the commercial sites, the larger contractors know how to do it right,” said Irving.
“They have the resources and training. We’re focusing our enforcement in the areas where it’s most needed.
“Although we’re fundamentally an enforcement agency, we see the value in compliance assistance partnerships.”
What to Expect in 2017
“We’re going to see a lot more 5(a)(1)s written in 2017,” said Irving.
The OSH Act of 1970 requires that each employer provide a workplace free of hazards known to cause serious physical harm or death.
While specific standards address numerous recognized hazards, the general duty clause—a provision in Section 5a1 of the OSH Act—applies to those hazards not covered elsewhere.
Citations based on the general duty clause, or 5(a)(1), are limited to serious violations, including willful or repeated violations, said Irving.
“And our penalties are going up,” he said.
The current maximum of $7,000 per citation is set to nearly double—to approximately $12,471—in August 2016.
“What are you doing before the barn door is open and the horse is out?” one attendee asked.
Irving answered: “We’re trying to be proactive with the staffing agencies and temp workers. This is another area we’re really focusing on: temporary workers.
"We are doing outreach to staffing agencies, and our focus is on powered industrial vehicles, who’s controlling lockout/tagout, and who’s providing HAZCOM training.
"We’re also looking at how contracts are set up for contract and temp workers. We’re attempting to get hazard communication off the number-one spot for violations.
“We still have a long way to go.”
EXPLORE BY CATEGORY
Stay Connected with CBIA News Digests
The latest news and information delivered directly to your inbox.