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Residential Construction Contractor's Guide

#3 - Employee Health and Safety

General building contractors have some of the highest injury rates in the U.S.  A report produced in Montana showed an incident rate of 23.2 injuries per 100 workers. As a contractor, you have certain obligations to protect the health and safety of your employees and, in some cases, subcontractors.

On a national level occupational health and safety standards are mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Failure to comply with regulations could result in civil and criminal penalties.

Below are health and safety regulations that may apply to most contractors. Regulations vary depending on the work being done and the nature of the hazards. Current information and regulations pertaining to your type of work can be obtained from OSHA.

Local Regulations and Recommendations

Depending on where you operate your business, the following recommendations could be law.  Regardless they are excellent recommendations and are designed to encourage workers and employers to work together in creating and implementing a workplace safety philosophy.  It is your responsibility to determine exactly what local and state regulations say, in addition to federal. 

  • Establish and maintain an education-based training program.
  • Provide new employees with a safety orientation before they begin work.
  • Provide job- or task-specific safety training for all employees.
  • Offer safety refresher training (at least annually).
  • Provide a system for employers and employees to discuss safety-related issues.
  • Implement a method for periodic workplace inspections and hazard assessments.
  • Document safety-related activities. These records must be kept for three years.
  • Develop a safety committee.
  • Assign specific safety responsibilities and performance accountability to employees.
  • Maintain procedures for investigating, reporting, and taking corrective action on all work-related illnesses, incidents, accidents, and injuries.

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Federal Regulations

OSHA's general duty clause states that "each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and places of employment free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." Federal regulations applicable to construction fall under two main codes that address specific workplace activities, require employers to instruct employees to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions in the workplace, and require employers to train employees in regulations applicable to his/her work environment as well as how to control or eliminate potential hazards.

Regulations

  • 29 CFR 1910 General industry codes relating to health and safety requirements and employee training.
  • 29 CFR 1926 Construction industry codes that address specific workplace activities and employee training.

Safety Programs

State and federal regulations require employers to develop, implement, and maintain an accident prevention/safety program. Each company develops a written safety program to meet the needs of the company. A written description of the program, along with written program elements, should be kept on file by management, posted if possible, and made available to all employees.

An effective accident prevention/safety program will:

  • Require involvement by both the employer and employee.
  • Include provisions for the systematic identification, evaluation, and prevention or control of workplace hazards, specific job hazards,
  • and potential hazards that may arise.
  • Look beyond specific regulations and address all hazards in the workplace.
  • Allow for frequent and regular inspections of the job site by competent persons.
  • Allow for periodic review and updates by employees and management.

Establishing an effective health and safety program is not only required, it can be an effective method for reducing accidents in the workplace. An effective safety program will include:

  • Employer commitment in the form of a written company policy statement.
  • Program goals and responsibilities.
  • Company safety rules and responsibilities.
  • Safety meeting schedules and committee responsibilities.
  • New employee and general training policies.
  • Methods for workplace inspections.
  • Accident and hazard reporting procedures.
  • Documentation and record keeping.
  • Applicable ancillary programs that may be required.

OSHA compliance officers frequently inspect job sites to confirm compliance with health and safety regulations. You can be fined if you fail to meet these regulations. An effective health and safety program can help secure a substantial reduction in penalties, especially if the program contains proper documentation.

Specific Work Procedures
Research conducted by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry Safety Bureau has identified activities that contribute to the majority of accidents and injuries in the building industry. Five leading sources of injuries are:

  • Backs and back-related injuries
  • Walking and working surfaces (slips-trips-falls, housekeeping, ladders, etc)
  • Hand and power tools
  • Lack or nonuse of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Falls

Your safety program should address these high loss areas. OSHA also requires that employers develop individual written programs or provide training for specific jobs and procedures related to the building industry. These ancillary programs might include:

  • Ladders and stairways
  • Fall protection
  • Hazard communication
  • Fire prevention and emergency response
  • Electrical
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Safe operating procedures for equipment and tools
  • Record keeping

Specific regulations will vary between jobs and situations. For example, there are regulations outlining everything from scaffold use to asbestos to lead-based paint.

Because of the variety of required training, regulations, and work procedures, it is important to contact OSHA, local builders association, or state department of labor to find out about any regulations that may apply to your specific trade or situation.

On-Site Health and Safety Consultation Programs
OSHA, and other agencies/organizations offer free and confidential on-site safety consultations that include:

  • Safety program evaluation
  • On-site identification and evaluation
  • Recommendations for exposure controls
  • Training programs
  • Accident analysis

Hazard Communication
Under Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA), and pursuant to state law, all employers must give employees information on hazardous materials used or stored in the workplace. This is known as the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) or "Employee Right-To-Know Law." The standard requires:

  • Appropriate labeling of hazardous materials.
  • Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for hazardous substances located on-site. Each MSDS contains information on health effects, environmental concerns, toxicity, chemical compounds, emergency and first aid procedures, safety precautions, fire hazards, and other pertinent information.
  • Adoption of a written hazard communication program, which includes employer policies on labeling, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), an inventory of all hazardous materials located on-site, and an employee training program.

Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
Manufacturers and distributors of hazardous chemicals are required by OSHA to provide a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each product. The MSDS can help you learn about the products you use and the wastes you generate.

Employee Training
Regulations require that employers provide training for employees handling materials capable of causing a health or physical hazard.  Proper training minimizes the risk of mishandling, improper storage, or improper disposal of hazardous materials. Training must include:

  • A summary of the HCS and written program
  • Name and location of hazardous substances in the workplace
  • Chemical and physical properties of the hazardous substances
  • Methods used to detect exposure to substances in the workplace
  • Physical and health hazards of the substances
  • Proper personal protective equipment to be used
  • How to locate, read, and interpret information found on a MSDS
  • Proper procedures for handling cleanup and disposal of hazardous substances
  • First aid and emergency procedures
  • How to properly handle, mix, and store hazardous substances

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