Infrastructure is constantly going up and coming down around us. Construction projects clutter our streets, sidewalks, hallways, and neighborhoods; if they’re conducted unsafely, every demographic is put in danger, from workers to passersby. All you have to do is take a look at our #HazardSpotting series to see a how common some bad practices are.
Whether you’re a worker or a bystander, it’s in your best interest to report an unsafe work site. So, how do you do it? Who’s in charge, anyway? And what happens when you act?
Who is in charge of workplace safety?
There are two regulatory bodies that have jurisdiction over workplaces.
Department of Buildings (DOB):
DOB is the regulatory body in charge of construction code compliance, since they’re the agency that issues work permits. In most cities, you’ll find either a DOB or a Public Works department (the latter more so on the county level in rural areas). This department has regulations on construction; it’s code is often compliant with OSHA standards.
Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA):
An arm of the Department of Labor (DOL), OSHA was created by Congress in 1970 to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” OSHA conducts inspections of workplaces to ensure that employers are meeting these conditions.
OSHA encourages states to set up their own worker safety and health protection agency. The agency must approve the state plan (which has to satisfy or go above all the federal criteria for safety), and thereafter it monitors the implementation and enforcement, as well as providing 50% funding. Currently there are 22 states that have their own OSHA-like plans in place. Additionally, there are five states that have safety and health plans in place for their public sector employees, but who are governed by OSHA for all other workplace safety and health issues. You can learn more about whether your state has its own State Plan here: https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/.
What do I do to report a construction hazard?
If there’s a severe violation and the public is in danger, call 911. Otherwise, you can contact the DOB or OSHA in the following ways:
311: Many cities use either 311 or a service like it to give citizens quick and easy access to non-emergency municipal services. If your city has a 311 number, you can call (or sometimes email) a complaint to the service, and they’ll reroute your complaint to the DOB. As an example, here’s NYC’s official 311 page on construction hazard reporting.
- When you report a hazard to 311, try to be as specific as possible about the nature of the hazard. Any hazard that endangers either workers or passersby is appropriate to report, from missing personal protective equipment (like hard hats or safety harnesses) or insufficient barricades between the public and the site.
- Let the service know the exact location you saw the hazard.
- Report, if possible, what construction company was onsite.
- Note that, unfortunately, 311 services do not typically accept photos for construction hazards (this is something we’re campaigning to change with our #HazardSpotting campaign).
OSHA: Employees or their representatives (for example, clergy, social workers, family members, nonprofit groups, etc.) have the right to request a workplace inspection. Anyone else, even if they are not affiliated with the workplace, also the right to report a hazard. According to OSHA’s FAQs:
- Before you call OSHA, consider simply notifying a supervisor or employer of the hazard. Look up the company at the site and ask to speak to a supervisor in regards to the construction site.
- Otherwise, file a complaint online, mail or fax the nearest OSHA office, or call OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Insist on speaking to a compliance officer and ask for his or her full name. Workers who report a hazard can participate directly in the OSHA inspection and have the right to speak to an inspector confidentially.
- Include information such as: how many employees were exposed to the hazards, how so, when, what type of unsafe work is being performed, the condition of equipment, whether employee safety training has been sufficient, if attempts have been made to correct the problem, if there were any near-miss accidents, and so on.
- Note that employees who report violations have the right to anonymity according to Section 8 (f)(1).
- OSHA will accept photo submissions.
What happens after I report a construction hazard?
DOB: A complaint is usually followed by an inspection. You can either call your DOB or see if there’s an online Buildings Information System (BIS) which provides the public with up-to-date information on building data. (Here is NYC’s, for example.) In a BIS, you can find a complaint report, detailing monthly statistics and resolutions.
OSHA: Written, signed complaints are likelier to result in an on-site inspection, while anonymous or online complaints are usually resolved informally over the phone with the employer. If OSHA finds that the employer is violating safety regulations, they will issue citations and fines (up to $7,000 for each serious violation and $70,000 for repeated and willful violations).
What are the most common construction safety violations?
- Fall protection, construction (29 CFR 1926.501)
- Hazard communication standard, general industry (29 CFR 1910.1200)
- Scaffolding, general requirements, construction (29 CFR 1926.451)
- Respiratory protection, general industry (29 CFR 1910.134)
- Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout), general industry (29 CFR 1910.147)
- Powered industrial trucks, general industry (29 CFR 1910.178)
- Electrical, wiring methods, components and equipment, general industry (29 CFR 1910.305)
- Ladders, construction (29 CFR 1926.1053)
- Machines, general requirements, general industry (29 CFR 1910.212)
- Electrical systems design, general requirements, general industry (29 CFR 1910.303)
- Cranes and derricks (29 CFR 1926.1400)