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Residential Construction Faces Unique Safety Hurdles

Aside from the obvious dangers such as falling and working around heavy machinery, there are other non-direct factors to consider when gauging the safety of residential construction.

Last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed more than $1.5 million in penalties toward a roofing company in Florida, Great White Construction Inc., after OSHA found the company failed to protect its workers from falls.[1]

In Boston, OSHA proposed a similar penalty in April after two employees died while working in a trench. OSHA found that the employees lacked safety features, such proper training, and a support structure.[2] In addition, the owner of the company is facing manslaughter charges.

These may not be not isolated incidents; some studies suggest there are inherent safety risks built into the residential construction industry. And when it comes to construction and safety – size can matter. One paper from the OSHA Alliance Program Construction Roundtable found small construction companies face unique hazards.

“Training, formal policies, and safety and health procedures may not be put in place because they are perceived as costly, time-consuming, and could affect the contractor bottom-line,” according to the paper. “In addition, small contractors may be less likely to share best practices and collaborate with similar contractors.”[3]

On a similar note, a study from the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) cites the need for better safety practices in residential construction.[4] The study found that the there is a general lack of awareness of problems and the perceived high cost associated with residential construction.

And, given the residential construction industry employs some 8 million people, it’s safe to say there is a lot of competition within the industry. Greater competition, according to Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, means meager profit margins and a temptation remove anything non-essential to the job.[5]

“Business owners and managers just can’t see spending money on that safety officer or safety training for the employees when cash is tight and they need to buy materials,” Helen Pieron wrote in her 2010 article.

As a result, she writes, safety is often the first thing to get scaled down.

Accidents happen, but employers – no matter their size – are responsible for ensuring the safety of their employees. While the residential industry appears especially vulnerable to safety issues, they can happen anywhere. An experienced construction safety expert with the proper OSHA certifications can help identify and determine proper safety procedures in small construction companies. Most construction accidents end up in court in civil litigation and often times an expert witness qualified to opine on construction safety issues will be engaged, however if proper safety measures were employed in the first place, then a law suit could be avoided along with serious injury suffered by the worker.

[1] OSHA News Release Region 4, North Florida Roofing Company Cited Again for Workplace Safety Hazards, (2017). Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/region4/08092017

[2] OSHA News Release Region 1, Employer in fatal Boston trench collapse did not provide safety training and basic safeguards for employees (2017). Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/region1/04122017

[3] OSHA Alliance Program Construction Roundtable, Proposed Strategies for the Occupational Safety and Health Community to More Effectively Reach Small Contractors in Residential Construction. Retrieved from: https://www.asse.org/assets/1/7/New_Strategies_to_Effectively_Reach_Small_Contractors_FINAL.pdf

[4] Larry J. Chapman, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Literature Review and Environmental Scan for Better Translation of Research to Practice in Residential Construction (2013). Retrieved from: https://www.cpwr.com/sites/default/files/publications/chapmanresearch2practicekf.pdf

[5] Occupational Health and Safety Magazine, Why Cost-Cutting Safety May Cost You More (2010). Retrieved from: https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2010/04/01/Why-Cost-Cutting-Safety-May-Cost-You-More.aspx