Point of Beginning

Safety Sense

June 1, 2006


After my last article ("How Much Safety Training is Enough?" March 2006), I received several calls that inspired me to write this column. There seems to be some confusion as to exactly which OSHA regulations apply to surveyors. I want to clarify this issue by first explaining some OSHA regulations and then answering some questions I've received about proper training.

General Industry and Construction Regulations

When Congress passed the Williams/Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the president (quick-who was president in 1970?) signed it, it was the first unified workplace safety bill ever promulgated in the United States. The act gave the administration two years to start a new agency, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and to develop a set of regulations. To undertake this task and complete it in two years was nearly impossible, so the agency started borrowing voluntary standards that had been developed by many trade associations and other workplace affiliated groups. Many of these guidelines were developed as early as the 1920s and 1930s.

Three distinct types of businesses were identified and regulations written for each: Shipbuilding (the building of all types of larger vessels, not small jon or bass boats), Construction (all types of construction activities), and General Industry (all activities not covered under the first two categories). It is unlikely that situations would arise where surveyors are directly involved with shipbuilding. Just being around the area doesn't necessarily count; a surveyor would have to be actively involved with the task of building the ship to fall under the shipbuilding regulations.

The majority of surveying employees are governed by the regulations for General Industry or Construction. I will be the first to admit that the difference between these two categories can sometimes be a gray area. For instance, if a business replaces a storm door that blew off during a storm, this activity would most likely be considered maintenance and fall under General Industry. However, if the same door was replaced along with all of the windows and doors, it would definitely be considered construction. The same is true with roofing scenarios. Replacing a few shingles is considered maintenance, while replacing the entire roof is considered construction. Although your employees don't replace storm doors or do roofing, you face the same issues when your crew leaves the office each day. If a field crew is performing a small mortgage survey for a homeowner in a suburban area, then it is safe to say they would fall under the General Industry Regulations. If your crew is on a construction site (with active construction underway, not just preliminary surveying) I am confident that they would fall under the Construction Regulations. Anything between requires some subjective judgment.

How does all of this come into play? Why not just follow one set of regulations and not worry about the other? Let me cite one very big difference between the two sets of regulations. In General Industry, the employer has to provide fall protection when an employee is exposed to a fall of 4 ft or more in most situations. In Construction, the distance is 6 ft for many situations, 10 ft if on any type of scaffolding, and even higher under the steel erection standards. I have seen and heard of surveying personnel exposed to falls under all of these scenarios. Understanding which regulations apply under any individual situation is imperative. If you don't provide fall protection when it is required, there are two possible outcomes that can be difficult for any company to overcome. The first is that an employee could get hurt or even killed. That is certainly the worst outcome. Short of an injury, many companies will admit that being cited by OSHA for violations is no picnic either. I am currently working on a case where the resulting citations after a fatality are more than $100,000. This company must not only deal with the loss of a fellow worker, but is also now confronted with a potential major cash flow problem. No picnic, indeed.

So how does a surveyor stay in line with OSHA and also run a business, hopefully making a profit? The answer is through education. If you are the boss, then you must know what is expected of your company. Go to classes. Read. Don't rely on word of mouth to know what needs to be done. People who work for years in a profession or trade have often been trained by those who never had any formal safety training. Also, be careful about what you read in some publications. I recently came across an article in a national trade publication (not for surveying) that had some major problems. In fact, I identified several points that were just plain wrong. It was not written by a safety professional but by someone in the trade who thought he knew all about OSHA regulations. If you can't personally go to classes, then send a reliable worker. But keep in mind that one of the biggest complaints I hear weeks after I've presented a class is from attendees who call back to ask how they can convince their boss that what they learned needs to be done. Don't fall into the trap of getting good information and then ignoring it. You will be really frustrated with yourself if you don't act and then someone gets injured or OSHA pays you a visit and finds violations.

OSHA Voluntary Compliance Courses

I have also had questions from readers about the OSHA Voluntary Compliance 10-and 30-hour courses I discussed in my March column. Some have received flyers advertising the courses in their local area and wondered if those courses would be good for them to attend. This is where the difference between Construction and General Industry comes into play regarding training. There are 10- and 30-hour classes offered in both the Construction and General Industry categories. It really depends on what percentage of your business comes from construction as to which course would be most appropriate. Both course descriptions include a general section where items that might be appropriate for any company are highlighted. Most General Industry courses will include information about machinery and other factory related items. Construction courses may include information about machinery and related items, but you may not need this information in your daily business. Any knowledge gained, however, may someday help you no matter how far off base it may seem for your business today. Most surveying companies we work with could benefit from either course, but I usually recommend the construction course. My reasoning is not just that surveying firms work more on construction sites, but also that the probability of an OSHA inspection is higher on a construction site.

A benefit of the voluntary courses is that the instructor has a lot of freedom to incorporate various topics. When I do a class for the surveying profession, I include a lot on traffic safety and other items that directly relate to surveyors' exposure. If your state or local association sponsors one of these classes, then you can be assured that most everything discussed will apply to your company.

Hopefully this additional information will help you and your company to step up and gain a little more knowledge on safety and OSHA compliance. Good luck and have a safe day!

Sidebar: Federal Regulation Codes

All federal regulations have a specific coding system to make it easier to find what you need. For example, the General Industry Regulations are identified as 29 CFR 1910. "29" represents the Department of Labor, the agency OSHA falls under. "CFR" stands for Code of Federal Regulations. The number "1910" specifically refers to General Industry.

Within the 1910 designation are more breakdowns for finding a specific regulation easier. Each major regulation could have hundreds of individual items of compliance. One such breakdown is Sub Part I, which refers to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Within Sub Part I, the section ".135" refers to Head Protection. Under this section, (a)(1) states, "The employer shall ensure that each affected employee wears a protective helmet when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects."