After a visit from OSHA, a design-build contractor learns how to do things by the book and profit from it.
Until a few years ago, I — like most builders and remodelers — didn’t give safety on the job a whole lot of thought. But then I got a call from my job-site foreman that changed everything. “You better get down here,” he said. “OSHA’s here.”
In hindsight, OSHA’s visit shouldn’t have been a surprise. We were working on a multifamily project, a series of town homes in a busy part of town. And we were setting trusses with a crane. Any inspector could have seen from half a mile away that there was dangerous work in progress. Even so, we weren’t ready.
First the inspector asked to speak to whoever was in charge of safety — the designated “responsible person.” My crew just stared at him, dumbfounded. We had no such person on site. Next he asked to see our written safety plan. We didn’t have one of those, either. Then he walked around the site looking for violations. Those were easy to find, because we were setting trusses without following OSHA’s rules for that activity. But he also found other, less obvious violations.
It’s tempting to think that inspectors are just trying to rack up citations for every possible thing that might be wrong on your site. In truth, their goal is to get you to change your policies and practices — to put someone in charge of safety, to create a written safety plan, to really satisfy all the safety requirements, especially the ones designed to prevent serious injuries like falls and electrocutions. The citations they write are supposed to get your attention. And in our case, they did.
I was cited for not having my workers trained in safe practices — a “serious violation” with a $2,000 fine. I was also cited for not properly bracing the trusses and for putting my workers at risk of falling from the trusses — two more $2,000 fines. We also got popped for using stepladders “for purposes they were not designed for.” And we were fined for unprotected openings (such as a 1-foot-wide hole in the concrete slab floor), improper electrical cords, and tripping hazards.
All of these violations would be easy to find on just about any residential job. So if you’re a typical residential contractor and OSHA shows up on your site, you’ll probably get socked in roughly the same way.