While most painting contractors are not worried about towboats exploding, last year, one of the largest Department of Labor citations for safety and health violations, went to ship repair contractor First Marine, which worked with blasting and painting contractor Joe Rupcke. Three other companies were included in the citation. They collectively received 55 violations (three workers died on the site) and penalties totaling $795,254. Even a small portion of that figure could put a painting contractor under.
According to Environment Health and Safety Today, OSHA issued citations for failing to test confined spaces before entry; train workers on confined space entry operations; label chemical containers; exposing employees to asphyxiation, fire, explosion, chemical, trip, and drowning hazards; and allowing hot work/welding to be performed without testing for an explosive atmosphere.
It comes as no surprise that OSHA inspections are expected to increase in the coming year. At a recent meeting with members of Congress, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said that even though the overall budget for the fiscal year is flat, the dollars directed to enforcement will go up about $3.8 million and more inspectors will be hired.
OSHA inspections exceeded 32,000 in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 – surpassing the 31,948 total in FY 2016 – despite attrition of compliance safety and health officers at the agency. The number of Certified Safety and Health Officials was a record-low 875 as of Jan. 1, according to a National Employment Law Project data brief published March 14.
What does this mean for painting contractors?
“Contractors really need to know what they need to do to be incompliance with OSHA,” says Shawn McCadden, construction industry consultant, business coach and trainer. “Inspectors have been told that if they’re heading to a scheduled inspection and they view a residential violation, they are required to address it. That’s been going on here in New England for at least a couple of years and that’s meant a lot of guys are getting themselves in trouble.”
McCadden suggests painting contractors learn about compliance requirements by searching for information on the internet; reading trade publications; joining a trade association; or working with an OSHA trainer.
Contractors also need written procedures on both how they will stay safe and how they will mitigate issues that arise. As McCadden says, “If someone’s hanging upside down from a lanyard — your fall arrest sytem — do you have a plan for how to get them down?”
There are three big things painting contractors in particular need to pay attention to, McCadden says — ladders, staging and lead paint.
Proper ladder use includes how workers are using a ladder as well as having the proper equipment on a site. “Ladders need three points of contact,” McCadden says. “If you’re climbing a ladder holding a brush and paint can, how do you maintain three points of contact? Right there, that’s a violation.”
When it comes to staging with planks, once a worker is six feet off the ground, “you might, for example, need guard rails on the staging as a fall arrest system.”
And recently, McCadden says, OSHA has been on the lookout for Renovation Repair and Painting (RRP) inspections. It’s not just how painters are doing the RRP work but how they are protecting workers from inhaling lead dust.