Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics show falls are the leading cause of U.S. workplace fatalities. Given that fact, it’s no surprise that OSHA has long concentrated its enforcement resources on fall protection requirements. Earlier this month, the agency went a step further, announcing a new National Enforcement Program (NEP) focusing on fall protection. Under the NEP, OSHA compliance officers are authorized to initiate an investigation whenever they observe an employee working at height. It includes situations where OSHA observes the worksite while on other business (often referred to as a “drive-by”). It also applies even if there is no initially observed violation of fall protection requirements.
The NEP will primarily affect the construction industry, where OSHA can easily observe workers from the road or nearby properties. The agency has substantially increased fines for fall protection violations, and employers that receive citations can expect to see penalties that are multiples of those issued in recent years. Construction industry employers should continue to emphasize training and compliance efforts for fall protection. General contractors should make sure that they are observing and, if necessary, correcting subcontractor safety practices, especially those involving fall hazards.