This month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that a construction contractor in American Samoa must pay over $1 million in new penalties for failing to provide adequate fall protection. In fact, since 2018, OSHA has cited the same contractor with 22 serious violations, including willful and repeated violations, in 26 separate inspections. Similar to the recent violations, the contractor previously failed to provide similar protection in 2013, which resulted in a fatal fall. It bears repeating that fall hazards are the number one cause of fatal workplace injuries. In particular, they are the most frequently cited violation during construction industry inspections. In May 2023, OSHA launched a National Emphasis Program to prevent falls.
OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard 1926.501
Fall hazards are one of the most common workplace hazards and can be present on any walking/working surface. In fact, any walking/working surface four feet or more above a lower level in the general industry poses a greater risk of a fall.
Under OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard 1926.501, employers must provide fall protection systems where applicable. The standard provides criteria for fall protection systems required for each type of walking/working surface present in the workplace. Fall protection systems must be present at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry, and eight feet in longshoring operations. In addition, employers must ensure protection when employees work over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance. Steps employers must take to prevent fall hazards include:
- guarding floor holes with a floor hole cover;
- providing a guard rail and toe-board around elevated open-sided platforms, floors, or runways; and
- utilizing personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), safety nets, or travel restraint systems.
Background of the Violations
In sum, OSHA cited the contractor for 21 violations. The violations included nine serious, six willful, and six repeat serious violations. According to OSHA inspectors, the contractor’s failure to provide fall protection and other OSHA violations consisted of the following:
- not using guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems;
- failing to equip stairs with one stair rail system along each unprotected side or edge;
- failing to ensure workers used appropriate eye and face protection when exposed to flying particles, molten metal, chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases and vapors, and hazardous light radiation; and
- incorrectly and unsafely installing equipment against manufacturer recommendations.
Penalties for Failure to Provide Fall Protection
For the contractor’s failure to provide adequate fall protection, OSHA proposed $1,088,681 in penalties. Along with the steep proposed penalties, OSHA has also announced its intentions to continue monitoring the contractor’s worksites. OSHA Area Office Director Roger Forstner in Honolulu stated that they would, “continue to hold this company accountable for their continued indifference to employee safety and closely monitor their operations until they bring themselves into compliance.” Subsequently, the contractor has 15 business days from the time they receive the citations and penalties to comply. Alternative, they may request an informal conference or contest the findings.