Inflation and OSHA

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Did you know that every year OSHA alters it’s Penalty amounts to coincide with Inflation?

And I bet you can also guess that it is always INflation and never DEflation. So, like every year for the last few, Penalties are on the rise. The new rates can be found here:

https://www.osha.gov/penalties/2019InflationAdjustments.pdf

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Multi-Employer Worksites

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Who is responsible for what, exactly?

For those of you that have been in the construction industry for a while, the information that follows is likely to surprise you for one reason or another.

For some of you, you will think “Wait, what? That can’t possibly be true!” And for others of you, you will think “Wait, what? That’s always been the case, so how is this anything new?”

Turns out, much to my surprise, that both of those statements/feelings are completely legitimate. So, here is the back story.

From the beginning OSHA had some verbiage that permitted them to cite whoever they deemed responsible for the violation.

And in 1999 OSHA released a directive titled “Multi-Employer Citation Policy” which clarified this responsibility.

First, OSHA defines what constitutes a Multi-Employer Worksite, which is a worksite where there is more than one employer involved in the completion of a contract…. So, that sounds familiar, right? It is virtually EVERY construction project that has ever been, or will ever be completed.

Next they provide 4 specific categories of employers that are cite-able for one violation. The short definitions are:

  • Creating Employer – The employer that actually caused the hazardous condition.
  • Exposing Employer – The employer that actually has employees exposed to the hazard.
  • Correcting Employer – The employer that is responsible for correcting the hazard (generally this responsibility is specifically assigned by contract, but not always). And finally…
  • Controlling Employer – The employer that is responsible for making sure everything is done properly, on time, in budget, and most importantly safely!

If you want to read all the nitty gritty about how they may these determinations, click here. Otherwise, just understand that this thing has been out there for a long time, and it has been used, at least on occasion in some locations. Trust me on that one.

But wait!!!

Apparently there had been a case way back in 1981 (Melerine v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc) where OSHA’s claim they could cite whoever was challenged, and based on the ruling of that lawsuit it was determined that essentially companies were only responsible for the actions of their own employees and not for the actions of anyone else, to include their subcontractors.

Maybe the 1999 Directive was OSHA’s answer to that lawsuit? Honestly, I don’t know. But because of that lawsuit the Fifth Circuit set a precedent that prevented citations from being issued based on that directive.

Fast-forward to 2015

I won’t rehash the whole thing here, but if you want to read the case, click here.

But the short version is that a General Contractor was cited by OSHA as the “Controlling Employer” for the actions of a 2nd tier subcontractor under the “Multi-Employer Citation Policy”.

As anticipated, the General Contractor contested the citation. And in the Appeals process it was determined that the General Contractor did in fact meet the definition of Controlling Employer, but because the citation was issued in the jurisdiction of the Fifth Circuit there was precedent to vacate the citation.

This decision then created yet another review. This review was of not only of this specific case, but also of all previous cases that established precedent in some way, as well as of the Multi-Employer Citation Policy itself. There are several pages of how they ultimately came to their decision, but a decision was finally reached.

Conclusion!

The Multi-Employer Citation Policy is alive and well!

So, go back to the top and read through it if you want the full details. Otherwise, just understand that as the Controlling Employer (i.e. Contractor) you are expected to ensure that EVERY worker, regardless of whose employee they are, is working in a safe environment in a safe manner. If your Subcontractor is issued a citation, you very well could end up with a similar citation because it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to CONTROL your worksite.

New Year – New Goals

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It is that time again… a time of reflection and planning.

Reflection…

2018 was challenging. Probably one of the most challenging years in my career. But it is in struggle that we grow and mature.

If I could wind back the clock and change some of the actions that created the challenges, would I? Absolutely. Because there are those whose lives were forever altered.

However, that is not a luxury that any of us have. So instead, we plan!

Planning

What can we do differently in 2019 in order to achieve our Goals? The starting point is to have Goals! And those Goals must be SMART!

In case there are some of you that aren’t aware of what SMART Goals are they are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

So, things like “I am going to have a great year!” don’t count. There is nothing specific or measurable about that statement. So dig deep, and figure out what it will take to have a great year.

EHS GOALS

Of course, every year our goal is to have fewer incidents than the year before. But what are we going to do, what actions are we going to take, to make that aspiration into an actual SMART Goal? In case you are wondering, it will not be achieved by the actions of one. It will require the actions of ALL!

Some goals that would help us achieve that end result, if everyone did it, are:

  • I will speak up when I see someone creating a hazardous situation. I will no longer turn a blind eye because they “aren’t my responsibility”.
  • I will take the time to talk to someone that is putting themselves or others at risk. I know they may not understand the hazards that are being created, so I will share my knowledge with them.
  • I will actively participate in training that is being offered to me. I may have a personal story that someone else can relate to that will keep them from being injured on the job site.
  • I will not knowingly allow myself or others to drive while distracted. So, that phone call, that text, that email, that Facebook post… it can wait until I am to my destination and safe.

These are actions that can be taken every day by every one of you. And if we ALL did it we would reduce the risks in our workplace to ourselves and to others.

All that is required is for you to remain alert and care enough out your partner to speak up.


Let someone know that you are on their team
when it comes to watching out for them and their safety.

Time to Enjoy…Not Stress


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For many of us, today or tomorrow marks that last day of work before our official “Holiday Break” begins. And with that I want to leave you with just a few reminders.

Relationships are the most important thing to remember during the holidays.  

This time of year can add an enormous amount of stress to everyone. There are more “obligations” that we suddenly find ourselves committed to… Holiday Parties, Family Dinners, Holiday Cards, Gift Buying, House Decorating… All of these traditions and rituals can be fun and can create great memories. But they can also add unnecessary stress to our lives so remember it is the relationships we have with others that is most important, not those traditions. If it stops being fun and meaningful, then do something different.

Here are some ways you can help manage holiday stress:

  • Change or Update Traditions – This should be a time of joy and happiness. If those “Traditions” are not providing that joy and happiness then it is time for something different. You are not obligated to send the 10-page Christmas Letter about your perfect year. You are not obligated to decorate 100 perfect sugar cookies. You are not obligated to hang a single decoration. If those are not things that bring you joy, then skip them. Find new ways to celebrate the relationships in your life.
  • Change your “Christmas Dinner” – Who ever said it had to be a fancy laborious ordeal? I mean, if you love cooking and having folks over, by all means do it. But if that is something you hate, order pizza or Chinese food or eat hot dogs… the thing is, it is your day, your meal. You are the one that should be enjoying it.
  • Minimize the Decorations – If rearranging your entire house to hang some ornaments isn’t your thing, then skip it. I assure you, the Decorating Police will not come knocking at your door.
  • Spend less on Gifts! – This one is a big one. Of course we all like getting fancy expensive gifts, and lots of them. But it isn’t necessary. Agree as a family on a price range and a number of gifts. No cheating! Do not go over either of the pre-determined amounts. Spending more money than you have on a gift that will be “cherished” for 10 seconds is stress-inducing for months. Don’t do it.

And if you really want to change things up, think ahead to next year. Think of all the money you would normally spend on gifts, decorations, dinner… and start saving it. Now, think about really changing traditions! Take the money you would have spent on a “thing” and spend it instead on a “memory”! Take a trip with your family instead. Plan it together.

Some other holiday Safety Tips can be found here:

Decline in Workplace Fatalities in 2017

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OSHA released a statement regarding the Decline in Workplace Fatalities in 2017. To read the full statement click here.

I do want to take a moment to discuss one very important part of the statement…

…the loss of even one worker is too many!

Loren Sweatt, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Every worker on every one of our projects plays an important and vital role in our success. That worker may or may not be an employee of Jordan Foster Construction. But they are valued the same to us as if they were our employee.

It is not acceptable to permit conditions or activities that create hazardous conditions for any worker on our projects. Jordan Foster Construction strives to create a workplace in which every worker will return home at the end of each shift… a little dirtier, a little more tired, but otherwise in the same condition they came to work that morning.

Hazards exist. But our work does not have to be hazardous! Look out for yourself. Look out for each other. We all strive to go home to our loved ones every night.

For JFC, not only is “the loss of even one worker too many”, but also any injury that creates a situation in which an employee cannot return to work the following day to provide for their family is unacceptable.

Take 4

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Did you know that the simple act of slowing down and taking just 4 seconds to think about safety before doing any task has been shown to reduce the probability of an injury incident by more than 90%?

Four Seconds!

That’s it.  

Of course, what you do in those four seconds is important!  So, start here:

Am I trained?

Be honest with yourself here.  Even if you have sat through hours of class room activity, do you know enough about this particular task to consider yourself trained?  That isn’t meant to be a trick question.  But you are the ONLY one that can answer that question.  Let me put it into perspective for you….  

I have sat through hours of class room activities over the course of my career discussing in detail about equipment and crane safety.  But to this day I would never claim that I am TRAINED on the proper operations or inspection of Heavy Equipment or Cranes.  I know that to operate them you must be knowledgeable.  I know that you must do inspections, and that those inspections must cover certain aspects of the equipment.  I know that you have to wear a seat belt.  The list of things I do know is lengthy, but that does not make be trained.

If you are not trained on the proper and safe way to perform a task, don’t do it!  You will just end up injured or injuring someone else.  Stop and ask for additional training.

Do I have the right PPE?

This is more than the typical PPE – Hardhats, Safety Glasses, Safety-Toe Boots, High-Visibility Vests.  This is the rest of it…

  • Hearing Protection?  
  • Face Protection?
  • Respiratory Protection?
  • Welding Goggles or Helmet?
  • Fall Protection?
  • Rubber Boots over your typical boots?

When you think about all of the hazards associated with the task you are about to perform, can they be eliminated?  And if not, are you protected from them?

Do I need help to do this?

Is this a task that you can safely do alone? This, again, is only a question that you can answer.  We can give you guidance, but if you are honest with yourself, you are the one that will know the answer better than anyone.  And before you decide to prove just how strong you are, that is activity that is to be left for the gym, not for work.  Here, you are expected to get help.  No one is going to be impressed with your ability to lift anything if it ultimately causes and injury to you or anyone else.

Can you pick that “thing” up by yourself?  Or is it too heavy? Or too bulky? Or awkwardly shaped? 

Should you perform that task in that area without anyone else around?  Do others know where you are?  Or where you are going?  Or what you are doing?

Is this the safest way?

Here’s the thing.  There are a million rules that cover a million scenarios.  You probably don’t know them all.  I can almost guarantee that you don’t know them all.  But here is something else that I can absolutely guarantee…

If you look at a situation, ANY situation, in the workplace and ever think to yourself … “That looks dangerous” or “There has to be a better/safer way to do that” it is because it is, and there is.

You are the one doing the work.  You are the one exposed to the hazard.  You are the one with the answer.  Share it!  Help us improve the safety, not only for you but for everyone that is on our work sites.

Trench Safety

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Excavations and Trenches are common on all construction sites.  Because of this, it is easy to lose sight of just how dangerous excavations and trenches can be.  But the thing is… they don’t have to be hazardous.  They do require planning, and execution of that plan, to ensure they are safe, but it is easy to keep everyone that works around or in an excavation or trench safe.

First, let’s clear up some definitions.  In construction the words excavation and trench tend to be used interchangeably.  However, from the perspective of safety, they are distinctly different words.  

Definition

  • Excavation – Any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in an earth surface, formed by earth removal
  • Trench – A narrow excavation (in relation to its length) made below the surface of the ground.  In general, the depth is greater than the width, the the width of a trench (measured at the bottom) is not greater than 15 feet.  If forms or other structures are installed or constructed in an excavation so as to reduce the dimension measured from the forms or structure to the side of the excavation to 15 feet or less, the excavation is also considered to be a trench.

Real World Application

  • Take the shovel out of the back of your truck and dig a hole – Excavation
  • Take a backhoe and dig a hole 25′ x 25′ x 6″ deep – Excavation
  • Make that same hole 10′ deep – Excavation
  • Place forms in that Excavation to build a 20′ x 20′ basement – Excavation inside the forms & Trench outside the forms (between the forms and the dirt walls of the original excavation.
  • Take another backhoe and dig for some sort of utilities… total of 20′ long, 5′ wide, 8′ deep – Trench
  • Install those utilities and start back filling the trench to:
    • 6′ deep – Trench
    • 5′ deep – Trench
    • 4′ deep – Excavation

Explanation

By following the though process above it is easy to see why the words are used interchangeably, because one can easily transition to the other with just some minor changes.  But, regardless of what you call it, the ultimate goal and requirement is to make sure every employee that works in or around that excavation or trench is protected at all times and that they will go home safely at the end of the day!

There are several methods of protecting workers that are involved in this type of work, including but not limited to “Sloping”, “Benching”, “Trench Boxes”, “Trench Shoring”, etc.  

Hazardous Work

Construction inherently has “hazards” but that doesn’t mean it has to be “hazardous”.  Hazards can be anything that has the potential to cause harm: Medication, Hot Coffee, Gasoline…  These all have hazards.  Hazardous comes into play when you don’t take those hazards serious and you make risky decisions. 

To keep Excavations from becoming Hazardous it is important to:

  • Know the hazards associated with trenching and excavations. 
  • Understand the steps to address those hazards (sloping, benching, shielding, etc.)  
  • Take the necessary actions to abate those hazards (actually use what is available to address the hazards…sloping, benching, etc.)

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