Contractors can join forces with OSHA upfront to reduce injuries.
If you’re like many contractors, you may see OSHA as an adversary interested in finding fault rather than an ally in your efforts to keep workers safe. But OSHA isn’t only about enforcement and fines. Through the OSHA Strategic Partnership Program, the agency has been working proactively with contractors on construction projects to encourage and assist in efforts to eliminate serious hazards and enhance workplace safety and health practices.
The program started back in 1998 and has been through several iterations. In an OSHA Strategic Partnership (OSP), the agency enters into a written agreement with an employer or group of employers and employee representatives. Other stakeholders may include local or state governments, state Consultation Projects and insurance companies, which may contribute expertise and resources.
Together the partners set health and safety goals, develop plans to reach them and cooperate in implementing the plans. (OSHA also has OSPs with organizations like the Associated Builders and Contractors; these groups agree to share safety and health best practices with their members and to promote recognition for construction safety excellence.)
OSPs have achieved some impressive results. For example, in 2009, Turner Construction Company formed an OSP with OSHA and the Illinois Safety and Health OnSite Consultation for the Queen City Square Tower construction project in downtown Cincinnati. During the course of the project, Turner helped 35 of its contractors and subcontractors develop their own safety and health programs and provided more than 4,000 safety training hours for more than 2,500 employees, supervisors and managers.
Project participants attained a Total Case Incident Rate that was 56 percent below the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s national average for construction and a Days Away, Restricted and Transferred (DART) rate 95 percent below average.
Examples of recent partnerships include a three-year agreement with Gilbane Residential Construction to protect 200 workers during the construction of a 487,000-square-foot multifamily high rise in Buckhead, Georgia. The goals include:
- Reducing the number of number of injuries and illness cases by 10 percent compared to the company’s baseline rates
- Increasing the number of employees, employers and supervisors who get effective safety and health training
- Controlling workplace hazards by increasing the number of subs on the job that use safety and health management systems
- Performing more inspections, sampling and monitoring in areas where workers might be exposed to hazardous materials or noises
For its part, Gilbane will establish a jobsite safety walk team with labor and management representatives, mentor subcontractors in establishing health and safety programs and conduct daily safety audits. It will also institute specific workplace processes, such as processes to reduce the potential for airborne silica exposure, and require every contractor to have a daily stretch and flex program to reduce ergonomic injuries. Subcontractors will agree to conduct jobsite safety inspections and participate in weekly safety committee meetings and jobsite audits.
OSHA’s role will be to serve as a resource for Gilbane and its subs, participate in safety meetings and training as its resources permit and audit monthly safety reports and make recommendations for improvements. It will also give priority to this construction project when the contractors need technical assistance with a health or safety issue.
If you’re interested in participating in an OSP for a particular project, contact the regional partnership coordinator in your area. OSHA partners may be large entities, but most often they are small businesses averaging fewer than 50 workers. Signed agreements usually last three to five years.
According to OSHA, “Partnering with OSHA is appropriate for the many employers who want to do the right thing but need help in strengthening worker safety and health at their worksites.”
Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.