In Brief

  • This article reviews specific instances where simply complying with OSHA standards, such as those related to fall protection requirements for steel erection, scaffolds, backup alarms and other hazards, can leave workers exposed to danger.

  • OSH professionals who work for companies that have a policy to do no more than what OSHA requires face a great dilemma and may face tough questions should an employee be injured and litigation arise.

  • Ultimately, OSH professionals should advocate for controlling hazards even when not required by OSHA standards because it is good business and saves lives.

Some corporate managers think of OSHA compliance as a nuisance or an unnecessary economic burden. They may reluctantly comply, but remain unconvinced about doing anything beyond what an OSHA standard requires. In some cases, however, mere compliance is not enough and, in the long run, is costly in several ways. Thus, OSH professionals should advocate for feasible hazard controls that will prevent worker injury and death even if no OSHA mandate exists. This article examines several situations in which companies that do nothing more than comply with a standard may expose workers to danger.

Fall Hazards: Steel Erection

As Figure 1 (p. 35) shows, ironworkers suffer more fatal injuries from falls than any other construction craft. However, the current OSHA standard [29 CFR 1926.760(a)(1)] requires standard fall protection, which consists of guardrails, safety nets or a fall arrest system, for ironworkers beginning at 15 ft. The agency does not require fall protection for ironworkers who work below 15 ft, despite the fact that serious injury and death can result from falls of less than 15 ft (NIOSH, 2000). Furthermore, OSHA does not require standard fall protection for workers performing connecting work or installing decks at elevations between 15 and 30 ft [29 CFR 1926.760(b), (c)]. However, it has been shown to be economically and technologically feasible to provide ironworkers with 100% fall protection for all exposures beginning at 6 ft above ground level.

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