OSHA is the primary safety enforcement agency in America. Like a lot of people, we were curious about who winds up in OSHA’s sights when it comes to citations and fines. So we did a down-and-dirty analysis of citations issued in the Houston area. The quick answer is, if you are a smaller business, especially in the construction sector, you are the top target. Here is what we found.
We looked at companies that received fines for the Houston area in November of 2017, the last full month posted on OSHA’s website. These are companies that were investigated, cited and received a monetary fine. Because investigations take time, other companies may be cited later, but this is based on the most recent information.
We found that the North and South Houston OSHA offices cited 17 companies in November, and, based on our simply analysis:
82% were small-to-mid sized businesses.
47% of companies were involved in some aspect of construction, such as building, roofing, water and sewage businesses or concrete workers.
52% of companies were cited because someone complained (a company employee; another government agency, such as police or fire departments; or a member of the public who saw an unsafe act) or an OSHA investigator saw a problem.
Let’s break this down –
Why are are so many of them small-to-medium companies? The simplistic answer is numbers; most businesses in America are small businesses. However, there is more to the story:
- They often lack the resources for quality safety programs.
- In some industries, larger companies use smaller contractors for potentially high-hazard work because the smaller companies may have more expertise in those operations and, let’s face it, it shifts the risk onto the smaller firm.
Why Construction? The industry suffers from statistically higher injury rates and OSHA has focused attention on construction firms. Beyond that:
- Construction workers are often in high-visibility work environments. Think about residential roofers. They are out where the world can see whether they have fall protection or not.
- Construction sites are not controlled environments. You can control the variables at a chemical plant or a manufacturing site. You work inside where you can identify and control hazards. With construction, site conditions change constantly and the environmental hazards like rain, temperature and light are unpredictable.
What decides whether a company is investigated? This part has changed considerably in recent years and employees need to understand the change. Once upon a time, planned inspections were a much bigger factor. However, OSHA has adapted in a number of ways:
- OSHA will investigate hospitalizations. In the past, OSHA wouldn’t learn about an injury that put a worker in the hospital until the company filed its injury log. Now that needs to be reported within eight hours and OSHA is obligated to follow up.
- OSHA is more sensitized to respond to complaints. Cell phone videos. Social media. News reports. The channels for communication have exploded, the ability of bypassers or disgruntled employees to record and report violations has increased and it all means that OSHA is likely to respond to a complaint.
- Inspections are targeted and prioritized. The agency identifies high-hazard industries and puts them at the top of the list for visits. Shame on the industry that is already warned they are on the priority list and doesn’t take it seriously.
Are you ready for OSHA to visit? Let us help. Our outsourcing services can give you a cost-effective alternative if you can’t afford a safety staff and can be a force multiplier if you have a limited staff. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.