The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with ensuring the health and safety of workers throughout the United States. Their objective is to enforce workplace laws and standards while providing training, education, and assistance when needed.
More than fifty years later, OSHA’s effectiveness is in question, particularly when it comes to the construction industry. Over the past decade, the number of fatalities has not changed, with ten out of every 100,000 workers dying between 2011 to 2020, during a time that saw the workforce growing nearly one-third.
The final year of that study also saw close to twenty percent of workers were in residential construction or specialty contractors focused on similar projects.
The majority of deaths occurred due to falls and electrocutions. “Struck-bys” and “caught-in/betweens” also killed countless workers when material, machinery parts, or vehicles hit or fatally trapped workers.
Various reasons purportedly played a role, including poor enforcement, less-than-adequate inspections, and paltry fines. Experts believe that OSHA should be an entity that is feared by ramping up more inspections while truly enforcing financial penalties that should already be higher.
Efforts should start with more inspections with small contractors, a segment accounting for approximately 90 of the industry, yet go unnoticed and unenforced. Countless so-called professionals are repeat offenders who can avoid fines and maintain lower costs, putting safety and quality low on their lists of priorities.
Even when OSHA issues fines, they fall short in collecting. From 2018 to 2020, all industries were able to avoid $100 million in penalties, a revelation from a Bloomberg Law investigation. Twenty percent do not pay their fines, resulting in OSHA writing off 14 percent of finances during that period, based on their own data.
Construction workers face inherent dangers on a daily basis. However, when a powerful entity fails to enforce the rules, fatalities will continue, if not increase.