Published In November 2001
Safety professionals often review the most frequently cited safety and health industry standards to identify problem areas. If the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) repeatedly finds a particular violation, special attention should be given to that hazard. With penalties issued to the employer and safety professionals focusing on improvements, one would expect the industry to make progress in these areas. To check this hypothesis, OSHA’s statistics for October 1995 through September 1996 were compared to the same period in 2000. The initial shock was the increase in OSHA activity in the electrical construction industry. Inspections, citations, and penalties practically doubled from 1996 to 2000. Inspections rose from 455 in 1996 to 848 in 2000. Citations increased from 1,051 issued in 1996 to 1,964 in 2000. And, electrical contractors’ penalties reached an all-time high of $1,116,636.46. Additional surprises were revealed upon reviewing the individual rankings. The top three violations were a disappointment. There was no improvement. The number of citations and penalties increased in proportion to OSHA’s activity and the same standards were found in the list. Electrical contractors continued to violate OSHA requirements found in the 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), “Subpart K Electrical” the most often. The specific standards in this subpart cited are “1) 1926.405 Electrical Wiring Methods Components & Equipment, General Use, 2) 1926.403 Electrical, General Requirements,” and “3) 1926.404 Electrical, Wiring Design & Protection.” The fourth, fifth, and sixth standards on the list raise a level of concern for the represented hazards. All are related to the potential for falls. No. 4 on the list, “1926.501 Fall Protection, Scope, Application & Definitions,” only moves from its 1996 rank of No. 5. The number of citations increased by 2.5. The number of citations for the standards ranked Nos. 5 and 6 tripled. In 1996, electrical contractors received a total of 25 citations for “Stairways 1926.1052” at Nos. 5 and 24 for “Ladders 1926.1053” at No. 6. In 2000, there were 75 each. The multiplier for the dollar amount of penalties was even greater. For 1996 and 2000 “Stairway” violations, electrical contractors paid $5,852.50 and $27,217. For Ladders, the increase was almost six times as much, with penalty totals reaching $34,827.25. Reviewing the next few standards in order also offers little that can be considered positive. No. 7 on the list “1926.20 Construction, General Safety and Health Provisions,” has only improved its rank by lowering one position. With actual increases in the citations and penalties, one can only attribute the improvement to the increase in rank of the hazards noted above. And, although No. 8 on the list, “1926.416 Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices” has lowered in rank from its the fourth position, all of its other numbers have increased. No. 9 on the list is hard to evaluate. OSHA changed the scaffolding regulations. In 1996, there were no citations for “1926.453 Manually Propelled Mobile Ladder Stands and Scaffolds.” However, “1926.451 Scaffolds” ranked No. 9, indicating no real change. Finally, the small change in citations issued for “Hazard Communication” provides little relief when you realize it is still in the top 10. Its rank merely changed from No. 8 in 1996 to No. 10 in 2000. Beyond the top 10, the pattern remains the same. Citations generally double, rankings shift slightly, and there are a few exceptions. Focusing on the exceptions, there were three notable changes. First, it appears there has been a shift in OSHA training citations. There were only five more citations issued for “1926.21 Construction Safety Training and Education.” There appears to have been an increase in training citations for specific hazards. For example, there were 10 times as many citations for “1926.503 Fall Protection Training” in 2000. Second, OSHA has been holding electrical line contractors responsible for the requirements in the General Industry standard “1910.269 Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution.” There were no citations for the rule in 1996. In 2000, contractor penalties amounted to $67,190. The third exception offers a positive note. Citations and penalties for “1926.25 Construction Housekeeping” decreased by almost one-half. An analysis of this comparison can take many directions. You may be unable to isolate all of the variables. But OSHA is clearly a significant one. Taking a gross look at the number of inspections and pattern of citations from year to year may do more for evaluating OSHA’s activity than industry safety. Regardless, electrical contractors should take note of the standards and OSHA’s numbers. Many regulations target high hazards. Dealing with safety and health is a matter of compliance as well as identifying hazards and reducing accidents. O’CONNOR is with Intec, a producer of safety manuals with training videos and software for contractors. Based in Alexandria, Va., he can be reached at (703) 628-4326, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.