According to a recent census release from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 3 million American employees suffered nonfatal occupational injuries in 2012. And while that number may seem high, the Bureau notes that it’s dropping. In fact, on-the-job accidents have consistently decreased since statistics were first collected in 1992.

painter on a scaffold

Who do we have to thank for this promising decline? Keeping the worksite safe is largely the job of one governmental agency: the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

Top 4 OSHA Citations In The Construction Industry

After digging through the data, we can now definitively list the most dangerous jobs in the country. Logging takes the top spot, with a tragic 62 on-the-job fatalities. Fishing, historically the most deadly occupation, made it to number 2 with 32 fatal accidents. Airplane pilots are next on the list, followed by two professions essential to the construction industry: roofing and steel workers.

The New York City Employment & Training Coalition has found that nearly 250,000 New Yorkers are employed in construction. And with so many of our friends, neighbors, and family working in what is clearly a dangerous industry, we need strong safety precautions on the jobsite. OSHA has done admirable work in this direction, instituting numerous regulations to keep NYC’s construction workers healthy.

But regulations are meaningless without adequate enforcement. So which rules are New York’s employers breaking? Here’s a list of the top 4 OSHA violations:

1. Fall Protection

After inspecting thousands of worksites, OSHA’s federal regulators found at least one safety requirement that was systematically neglected by employers: fall protection. Falls are one of the most common causes of injury on construction sites across the country, and preventing them is an employer’s explicit responsibility.

Within the construction industry, employers are required to:

  • cover holes in flooring, using either a railing and toe-board or floor hole cover
  • install guard rails and toe-boards around open-sided platforms and runways
  • if necessary, provide safety nets, harnesses, and hand rails

These regulations come into effect whenever workers work six feet or more above the ground, unless they’re working over dangerous equipment or machinery. In that case, safety precautions are always required.

You can find a full list of OSHA’s fall protection regulations here.

2. Hazard Communication

On its face, “hazard communication” could mean almost anything. In OSHA’s language, it has a very limited scope. Hazard communication refers strictly to dangerous chemicals. Employers have a duty to ensure that all toxic substances are appropriately marked, and that workers are fully informed of potential hazards and appropriate safety measures.

Last week, we wrote a great post on chemical exposure in the construction accident. You can learn more here.

3. Scaffolding

In a recent study, the Bureau of Labor & Statistics interviewed construction workers who had been injured in scaffold accidents. A shocking 72% said that their accidents occurred when the planking or supports of a scaffold gave way beneath them. In short, scaffolds still aren’t being constructed properly. Understandably, OSHA’s scaffold regulations are all concerned with a scaffold’s structural strength:

  • can it hold more than enough weight?
  • is it properly connected to roofs or floors?
  • is each platform fully-planked?
  • are platforms wide enough?

You can learn more about OSHA’s scaffold requirements here.

4. Respiratory Protection

Most common occupational illnesses are caused by the prolonged inhalation of particles. Generally, we take this to mean toxic substances, like asbestos, which, when left to drift through the air, can cause life-threatening cancers. But even common, non-toxic dust can lead to serious respiratory complications.

One half of OSHA’s relevant requirements involve eliminating the very production of these harmful dusts and smokes wherever possible. The other half requires employers to provide filtering respirators to any employees who may be exposed. And as simple as it may seem, employers continue to fail their workers. This past September, an Oklahoma-based company was fined $341,550 for failing to mark off areas contaminated by hexavalent chromium and providing employees with inadequate personal protective equipment. You can find more on the story here.

Can I Sue My Employer For OSHA Violations?

In most cases, you can’t sue your employer for violating one of OSHA’s regulations, even if you were hurt as a result. State workers compensation programs were set up precisely for this purpose: compensating injured workers and keeping lawsuits out of the courts. So workers comp generally restricts you from suing a boss or manager. In exchange, you get guaranteed coverage for your medical expenses and lost wages. Is it a fair bargain? That’s up to you to decide.