Evolution of Construction Safety Regulations essay

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The Association of Iron and Steel Electrical Engineers (AISEE) pushed for a "national conference on safety" and as a result the Cooperative Safety Congress (CSC) was held (in 1912) and out of that meeting the National Council of Industrial Safety (NCIS) was founded. Later, the NCIS evolved into the National Safety Council (NSC) (Goetsch, p. 6).

On-the-job accidents "and even fatalities" were "an accepted fact of life in the construction industry" during the early 1900s, writes author Richard Hislop on page 4 of his book, Construction Site Safety: A Guide for Managing Contractors. Construction workers helping to build the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, for example, were in harm's way constantly. When the budget was established and the projections for the Golden Gate were prepared, "it was expected that there would be on fatality for each million dollars of construction work," Hislop explains (1999, p. 4). And since the estimated cost of the Golden Gate was about $32 million, it was considered a victory of sorts that only 17 men lost their lives constructing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Hislop contends that the safety measures instituted during the construction of the bridge was due in large part because of an "increased management commitment to safety"; and indeed management's greater attention to safety was also due in large part to "their growing realization of the impact that increasing costs of worker's compensation payments, higher dollar value judgments in lawsuits," among other safety-related issues (p. 5). So indeed, the workers' compensation movement had an impact as far as safety on construction sites was concerned because employers feared having to pay out substantial sums of money when workers get hurt. That is not to suggest that employers did not care about the health and welfare of their employees, but the incentive was there to make the work site safe or else be prepared to pay out large sums to cover injured workers' medical bills.

Construction site workers are at a greater risk for on-the-job injuries than other employees, for several reasons Hislop asserts on pages 5 -- 6. Construction work is cyclical, for one thing, and many jobs are of very short duration. Hence, there is pressure on the contractor to get the work done quickly; "long work hours" can result in "inattention due to exhaustion" which in turn can lead to accidents and injuries. Secondly, the increased use of contracted services for the "less desirable and often more hazardous tasks" on construction sites -- along with contractors being under "significant pressure to work quickly" -- can lead to a greater risk of personal injuries (Hislop, p. 6). These issues and others have led the federal government to enact the OSHA legislation.

Just as the contractors of the Golden Gate Bridge expected a certain number of deaths per million dollars, in the early years of the 20th Century, "it was common practice to assume that accidents would claim one life for each two floors of a buildingor for each half-mile of tunnel construction" (Levitt, et al., 1993, p. 1). and, Levitt goes on, as safety gradually became a bigger part of construction jobs, the bosses -- who of course had good reason to avoid the "pain and suffering to workers and their families" when a serious injury or death occurred -- learned that "safety management pays off handsomely" in financial terms. Why? "Effective safety management is a profit maker for construction companies" because of the high direct and indirect costs to management (Levitt, p. 2).

Right after WWII, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began enormous construction projects that included flood control and navigation systems, and hydroelectric-related dams. Because it was federally funded the Corps zeroed in on safety prior to launching big construction projects and the result was manual EM385-1-1 ("Safety and Health Requirements Manual"), MacCollum writes (p. 5). This manual -- which focused on reducing or eliminating on-the-job injuries and served as a kind of safety regulation -- made it a requirement that in order to provide construction safety, a safety engineer would have to review all the plans for on site construction before work could commence. Also, every contract that the Corps of Engineers signed included the need for "construction safety planning conferences" prior to the actual job being launched, MacCollum pointed out in his book. The result of the Corps' carefully planned and engineered safety strategies was that "for years the Corps' record for construction injuries has been one-fifth of the casualty rate for similar work not under their supervision" (MacCollum, p. 5).

From the conclusion of the first World War (WWI) through the 1950s, the federal government began to press contractors to "implement and maintain a safe work environment" for employees, Goetsch explains. When WWII came along and the federal government called up hundreds of thousands of troops for deployment to the Pacific and European Theaters, employers in the construction and industrial fields struggled to find enough qualified workers. And so during that period safety became a very serious business; with the shortage of trained, quality workers (due to WWII and later the Korean War), an injury to a replacement worker "created an excessive hardship," Goetsch goes on (p. 7).

In the 1960s, Goetsch explains, a "flurry of legislation" was put into law regarding workplace safety -- and all of these laws evolved into today's OSHA. The Service Contract Act of 1965, the Federal Metal and Nonmetallic Mind Safety Act, the Federal Coal Mine and Safety Act, and the Contract Workers and Safety Standards Act all led to the passage of OSHA in 1970.

OSHA -- What it Means for Construction Sites and all Workplaces

The evolution of workplace-related laws that preceded OSHA -- today's major piece of legislation that protects workers -- there were several instances of litigation that basically established fair and/or unfair standards. In Farwell v. Boston & Worchester Railroad Corporation (1842) a railroad engineer was seriously hurt when the switchman "negligently caused the train carrying the engineer to derail" (Schneier, 1999, p. 18). The court denied the injured engineer's attempt to be awarded compensation, however, stating that because the engineer's wage of $2 per day included "an adjustment for the dangerous nature of his job" he was not worthy of additional compensation for his injuries. The written court statement held that:

"He who engages in the employment of another for the performance of specified duties and services, for compensation, takes upon himself the natural and ordinary risks and perils incident to the performance of such services, and in legal presumption, the compensation is adjusted accordingly" (Schneier, 1999).

The impact of Farwell v. Boston & Worchester Railroad was softened considerably in Connolly v. Poillon (1864); in that case, based on a shipbuilding construction site, scaffolding gave way and a worker was seriously injured when materials fell on him. The court affirmed a verdict for the plaintiff, saying, "Employers have an affirmative duty to protect their employees from unreasonable risks" (Schneier, p. 20).

Meantime, David Goldsmith describes the minimum safety standards set in place for contractors by OSHA in the 1970s landmark legislation. One: employers must have a health and safety program; two employers are not obligated to perform dangerous or unsanitary work; three, regular inspections must be conducted by "competent persons"; four, machines not in compliance with OSHA safety standards are prohibited; five, equipment that does not comply with safety standards must be tagged as such or taken from the job site; six, equipment cannot be operated by anyone who hasn't been trained properly; seven, all employees must receive training in safety and health regulations; eight, an OSHA poster must be clearly displayed and copies of the rules must be made available "upon request" to workers; nine, all injuries that resulted in lost time "must be kept and posted at the job site"; ten, accidents that result in the hospitalization of five or more workers "must be reported to the OSHA area director"; eleven, job sites must post the location and name of the nearest medical facilities; twelve, employees must be instructed as to how to avoid unsafe conditions; thirteen, an employee must be made a representative and must attend OSHA conferences and workshops; and fourteen, all employees "must have access to exposure and medical records" (Goldsmith, p. 2). There are thousands of words that accompany OSHA requirements, but suffice to say the fourteen listed above are the pivotal rules.

Author Schneier -- who is an attorney with the American Bar Association -- points out that when an OSHA investigation is conducted on a construction site, owners, contractors and other employees have the following rights: a) to refuse an interview; b) to reject an investigation unless there is an "enforceable warrant"; c) to refuse to produce documents without a warrant; d) to negotiate "terms and conditions of voluntary submission to an inspection, interview, or document request"; e) to refuse the release of "privileged documents"; f) to participate…[continue]

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