Friday, October 2, 2009

OSHA and Residential Remodeling

Everyone in the remodeling industry knows that much of the work you do presents a risk of injury… and even death. And hopefully you know that all employers are required by OSHA to provide employees with a safe working environment. You may also know that there are 22 states (incl. Puerto Rico) that have state OSHA plans that you must follow (rather than federal) if you work in one of those states.

Did you know that each state has OSHA consultation services? This is different from OSHA’s enforcement division, which is administered by either the state or the federal government, depending on whether or not you’re in a state plan state. The Office of Consultation Services exists to educate employers and employees. They will perform site inspections by invitation only, and keep the results confidential. Small companies in high-risk industries (such as remodeling contractors) are given priority, and the service is provided for free. According to OSHA, “employers can find out about potential hazards at their worksites, improve their occupational safety and health management systems, and even qualify for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections.”

On the other hand, the enforcement division makes unannounced inspections, and is the entity that will penalize you if you’re found in non-compliance. There are two types of inspections. One is a “focused” inspection, which looks at only a limited number of conditions for compliance, such as fall hazards, electric hazards, personal protection, and so on. The enforcement division may do this kind of inspection, but will also perform a “wall-to-wall,” which should be self-explanatory.

Many of you are paper contractors, so what is your obligation to comply with OSHA regulations? To quote: “You will be responsible for doing your best to ensure that your subcontractor complies with OSHA.” In other words, if your sub is not in compliance, and you can’t prove that you’ve taken all reasonable steps to make the sub comply (short of throwing him off the job), you will be held responsible.

This means that you will have to require the sub to
- Wear the appropriate protective gear (hard hat, eye protection, appropriate clothing, etc.);
- Use the appropriate fall protection equipment if any work is 6 feet off the ground or higher;
- Use ground fault circuit interrupters on each extension cord;
- Have at least one of his employees trained in first aid techniques, and;
- Have in place a written safety training program and hazard communication program.

If your sub is not in compliance, you should notify him in writing that he must comply before you will allow him to complete the job. Of course, if you employ your workers, it’ll be your obligation to have these practices in place yourself.

With that said, I have never heard of an OSHA inspection on a residential remodeling project in over 20 years of experience with projects around the country. But the issue is not about the low probability of being caught violating some annoying regulations. Nor is it an economic issue. The issue is ensuring that the people who work on your projects do not get injured or killed. This is a value set that should be a part of every remodeler’s culture. It’s about doing the right thing.


Christopher G. Hill said...

Interesting post Rick. I like the blog!

Desert Star Construction said...

Great source of info. Thanks for sharing.