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OSHA and Self-Storage: Avoiding Injuries and Safety Hazards on Construction Sites

By Amy Campbell Comments
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It’s day one of construction for Phoenix Self-Storage, a long-awaited ground-up development in Main Town, USA. Everyone is eager to get started. The construction crews have arrived, and the site is buzzing with excitement.

Then the unthinkable happens. Just a few hours into the day, a worker is severely injured. As panic ensues, a few level-headed employees do their best to control the situation. While some tend to the injured man, others alert the supervisor and storage owner. Someone else dials 911.

After the employee is whisked away in an ambulance, the remaining workers begin to share information and speculate on what might have caused the accident. The once-energetic worksite has quickly become fraught with anxiety and fear.

With all eyes on them, the owner and supervisor huddle to discuss their next move. Do they send everyone home or forge on? What went wrong and could it have been prevented? Should they alert someone from their insurance company or a representative from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) right away or wait until they hear how the worker is doing? Is there still risk on the site for someone else to get hurt?

No one ever goes to work thinking they’ll be hurt—or even killed—on the job. Yet 12 employees, on average, die every day from workplace injuries, according to OSHA statistics. Fortunately, there are many precautions self-storage owners, developers and employees can take to ensure they don’t become a number. It begins with understanding site safety and OSHA regulations, following them to a T, and then ensuring everyone receives ongoing training.

Understanding OSHA

Prior to 1970, there were no national laws regarding health and safety for people on the clock. Congress established OSHA in 1971 under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which was signed into law on Dec. 29, 1970. The act covers nearly all private-sector employers and their workers, and some in the public sector, in all 50 states as well as certain territories and jurisdictions under federal authority.

The agency’s mission is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for employees by setting and enforcing standards in addition to providing assistance, education, outreach and training. OSHA standards are divided into four main categories: agriculture, construction, general industry and maritime. There are hundreds of guidelines, and new ones are created every year. These regulations are enforced through regular jobsite inspections, and companies can be cited or fined for violating them or creating serious hazards.

“OSHA [inspectors] can stop at a site by picking a job from a permit, a complaint or by driving by and noticing the site,” says Danny Montelepre, a vice president of construction (Louisiana operations) for SBS Construction, a design-build general contractor providing turnkey construction services to the self-storage industry. “Often times, [inspectors have] sat across the street and taken photos or video of an evident violation before ever stepping foot on site.”

OSHA violations often result in significant penalties for a company. “Fines usually start at $1,000 per violation and can go up depending on the severity. The general contractor can be fined for a subcontractor’s violation,” says Nicholas Bergmann, vice president of general contracting for Capco Steel Inc., which also supplies steel and erects metal buildings, including self-storage and boat/RV storage.

OSHA has strict reporting requirements. Companies with more than 10 employees must keep a record of serious work-related injuries and illnesses. The records must be maintained at the worksite for at least five years, and employers are required to post a summary of the injuries and illnesses from the previous year, February through April.

Who’s in Charge?

While every employee is fundamentally responsible for his own safety at work, the superintendent or general contractor is ultimately in charge of ensuring the company provides a protected worksite and everyone follows OSHA rules. This person is also in charge of submitting necessary forms to OSHA in case of a site accident, injury or illness. Many companies will create a safety team and require each member to undergo extensive OSHA training. Following proper safety protocols also extends to subcontractors.

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