53. OSHA Enforcement of Construction Safety and Health Regulations: Federal Citations and Penalties
OSHA citations in construction followed a similar trend as its inspections in the past decade (see page 52), rising to about 58,000 in 2010 and then dropping to 34,100 by 2015 (chart 53a). As multiple citations may be issued during one inspection, the number of citations was much higher than the number of inspections. In 2015, the number of construction citations issued by federal OSHA was almost twice the number of inspections in the same year (see page 52).
Although the number of citations fell about 44% between 2003 and 2015 (chart 53a), the proportion of serious, willful, and repeat (SWR, see Glossary) violations (a measure of non-compliance with OSHA standards) in construction increased from 82.9% to 87.2% during this period. Violations with a high level (4-10) of gravity (or potential harm to workers, see Glossary) also increased from 38% to 89% over these years.1 These statistics may reflect a change in targeting practices following the establishment of the OSHA Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) in 2010.2,3
In 2015, the most frequently cited construction violations were fall protection and scaffolding, in particular among Specialty Trade Contractors (NAICS 238, see page 1 for industrial classifications and codes; chart 53b). More than 85% of these two major citations were issued in this subsector, disproportionally higher than its share (67%) of construction payroll establishments (see page 2). More than half (54%) of the citations issued in Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction (NAICS 237) were violations of the OSHA trenching standards (764 out of 1,407) – a higher proportion than any other construction subsector.
The number of OSHA citations related to fall protection in construction increased to 12,274 in 2010, but decreased in the following years (chart 53c). Nevertheless, fall protection remained the most frequently cited workplace safety violation in each year from 2011 to 2016.4 In 2015, 9,469 OSHA citations in construction were related to fall protection, 30% lower than the 2010 number; yet its share of all construction citations increased by 60%, from 17% in 2003 to 29% in 2015.
OSHA conducted fewer inspections for health hazards in construction than for all industries (see page 52). After a high point of 3,782 citations in 2009, the number declined, falling to a record low of 2,105 citations in 2015 (chart 53d). The percentage of health hazard citations fluctuated, hovering around 6% of all citations in construction since 2003.
In 2011, the average penalty per citation jumped to $2,790 (in 2015 dollars; chart 53e), a $928 increase from the year before, reaching a record high in the past decade and reflecting changes to the OSHA penalty structure.3 In 2015, the average penalty was $2,567 per citation in construction, totaling $64 million in penalties for the industry.
The total amount of penalties roughly corresponds to the number of citations issued in each subsector. For example, Specialty Trade Contractors had the most citations for fall protection violations and the highest penalty amounts in 2015 ($21.2 million; chart 53f). However, Heavy and Civil Engineering paid nearly twice the penalties for trenching violations compared to Specialty Trade Contractors ($2.6 million versus $1.4 million, respectively), though the number of trenching violations was just 53% more in the former, indicating more severe violations compared to the latter.
Studies suggest that OSHA inspections and penalties have significantly reduced occupational injuries.5 It is estimated that OSHA inspections led to about a 20% reduction in serious injuries among all industries combined,6 and a recent systematic review found strong evidence that citations resulting from inspections led to a significant reduction in injuries.5
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Gravity – From the Occupational Safety and Health Administration: the level of potential harm to workers. The measurement of severity of violations, ranging from 0 to 10, with higher numbers representing more serious violations.
Serious, willful, and repeat (SWR) – From the Occupational Safety and Health Administration: a serious violation is issued when a workplace hazard exists which has a high probability of causing death or serious physical harm and that employers knew or should have known about. A willful violation is issued when an employer knowingly does not abide by OSHA standards and makes no effort to rectify the situation. A repeated violation is when employers are repeatedly cited for the same OSHA violation.
1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 2003-2015 Integrated Management Information System. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center. OSHA inspects payroll establishments only. Tabulations were based on calendar years and the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) for a better comparison over time. In calendar year 2015, the number of federal inspections was 18,114 by NAICS (23). Therefore, the numbers reported here may be different from OSHA reports which are based on fiscal years. State-plan inspections were not included in the tabulations.
2. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 2010. Federal Severe Violators Enforcement Program, https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=DIRECTIVES&p_id=4503 (Accessed July 2017).
3. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 2010. OSHA enforcement: Committed to safe and healthful workplaces, http://www.osha.gov/dep/2010_enforcement_summary.html (Accessed July 2017).
4. MSDS Online. 2016. Top 10 OSHA violations of 2016, https://www.msdsonline.com/blog/msds-chemical-management/2016/10/18/osha-top-10-most-cited-violations-of-2016 (Accessed August 2017).
5. Tompa E, Kalcevich C, Foley M, McLeod C, Hogg-Johnson S, Cullen K, MacEachen E, Mahood Q, Irvin E. 2016. A systematic literature review of the effectiveness of occupational health and safety regulatory enforcement. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 59(11): 919-933.
6. Li L, Singleton P. 2017. The effect of workplace inspections on worker safety. Center for Policy Research – The Maxwell School, www.maxwell.syr.edu/uploadedFiles/cpr/publications/working_papers2/wp201.pdf (Accessed July 2017).
Charts 53b and 53f – “Scaffolding” refers to citations within subpart L, “fall protection” refers to citations within subpart M, “stairways and ladders” refers to citations within subpart X, “trenching” refers to citations within subpart P, “personal protective equipment” refers to citations within subpart E, “electrical” refers to citations within subpart K, “general provisions” refers to citations within subpart C, and “health hazards” refers to citations within subparts D and Z. Citations issued in construction using general industry standards were also included in the tabulations.
Charts 53a, 53c, 53d, and 53e – Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 2003-2015 Integrated Management Information System. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center.
Charts 53b and 53f – Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 2015 Integrated Management Information System. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center.