How OSHA Regulation Affects Construction Injury Cases

Learn about the types of construction site safety standards passed by OSHA, the consequences of violating regulations, and the effect on worker injury cases.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency that regulates workplace safety, including construction. OSHA was created in 1970 as a division of the Department of Labor. It conducts research on workplace safety, promulgates safety standards, keeps track of workplace health and safety statistics, and enforces safety standards by conducting inspections and leveraging penalties for violations.

A large portion of OSHA’s activities occur in coordination with the states. Each state has the option of creating an OSHA state plan that provides for enforcement of health and safety standards that are at least as stringent as the standards promulgated by OSHA. When states opt to create such a plan, the safety standards generally apply to both public and private workers. When states choose not to create a state plan, OSHA standards still apply within the state, but they only apply to private workers. Twenty-seven states currently have state plans.

This article identifies the types of safety standards passed by OSHA, as well as the consequences of violating OSHA standards.

OSHA Safety Standards

OSHA promulgates standards for almost every safety issue imaginable in the construction industry. Some of the safety standards are very general, for example:

1926.150(a)(2): Access to all available firefighting equipment shall be maintained at all times.

Others are extremely specific, such as:

1926.451(b)(4): Each end of a platform, unless cleated or otherwise restrained by hooks or equivalent means, shall extend over the centerline of its support at least 6 inches (15 cm).

The full text of all of the OSHA safety standards for the construction industry can be found here. The standards are separated into 28 subparts:

  • general
  • general interpretations
  • general safety and health provisions
  • occupational health and environmental controls
  • personal protective and life saving equipment
  • fire protection and prevention
  • signs, signals, and barricades
  • materials handling, storage, use, and disposal
  • tools – hand and power
  • welding and cutting
  • electrical
  • scaffolds
  • fall protection
  • helicopters, hoists, elevators, and conveyors
  • motor vehicles, mechanized equipment, and marine operations
  • excavations
  • concrete and masonry construction
  • steel erection
  • underground construction, caissons, cofferdams, and compressed air
  • demolition
  • blasting and the use of explosives
  • power transmission and distribution
  • rollover protective structures; overhead protection
  • ladders
  • commercial driving operations
  • toxic and hazardous substances
  • cranes and derricks in construction, and
  • cranes and derricks used in demolition and underground construction.

Consequences of Violating OSHA Standards

There are two basic forms of consequences for violating OSHA safety standards:

  • an OSHA disciplinary action (usually a fine) and/or
  • personal injury liability.

OSHA Disciplinary Actions

OSHA has an enforcement infrastructure that conducts inspections without notice. The inspections can be either on-site or by telephone or fax. OSHA inspection priorities include,

  • imminent danger
  • catastrophes
  • worker complaints and referrals
  • targeted inspections - high injury/illness rates, severe violators, and
  • follow-up inspections.

The ten most commonly violated standards are,

  1. 1926.451 – Scaffolding
  2. 1926.501 – Fall Protection
  3. 1910.1200 – Hazard Communication
  4. 1910.134 – Respiratory Protection
  5. 1910.147 – Lockout/Tagout
  6. 1910.305 – Electrical, Wiring Methods
  7. 1910.178 – Powered Industrial Trucks
  8. 1926.1053 – Ladders
  9. 1910.303 – Electrical, General Requirements
  10. 1910.212 – Machine Guarding

The average fine for violating OSHA standards is $1,100.

Personal Injury Liability

When workers get hurt, they can usually use OSHA standards as evidence against a defendant. Because of their official and legally binding nature, OSHA standards tend to carry significant weight in a courtroom. A violation of an OSHA standard can be damning evidence and can lead to a substantial verdict in a construction worker injury case.

In a personal injury lawsuit over a construction accident, the worker must demonstrate that the defendant acted negligently. Violation of an OSHA safety standard can help prove that the defendant failed to meet its duty to take reasonable steps to ensure worker safety.

Imagine a worker is injured when a scaffold collapsed. The worker built the scaffold herself, but the construction company was responsible for monitoring safety at the worksite. If the workers at the site consistently built scaffolds that did not comply with some of the OSHA standards, many courts would hold the construction company responsible for the worker’s injuries. (Of course, in many cases, the construction worker's injuries may also be the subject of a workers' compensation claim.)

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