Onsite safety measures are nothing new for U.S. construction workers and for the contractors that employ them. Private companies have instituted a wide range of initiatives to keep their workers as injury-free as possible, driven by both the financial benefits of a safer workplace and a desire to foster a company culture that values its employees.
Some public authorities, like the New York City Council, have even implemented tighter regulations regarding jobsite safety. Just last year, new safety rules went into effect requiring most construction workers to undergo a set amount of safety training before being able to legally start work in any of New York City's five boroughs.
But it seems the safety microscope has skipped over the U.S. Department of Defense, the largest contracting agency in the federal government at a volume of $320 billion annually. So, in order to address concerns about worker safety on DOD projects, the U.S. Government Accountability Office launched a study to determine how many DOD contractors had previously been cited for health and safety violations and how the department addresses safety issues with contractors before they are awarded work.
The GAO report covered fiscal years 2013 through 2017 and examined the safety records of 192 manufacturing and construction companies with DOD contracts during that time. The GAO discovered that 52 of those companies had accumulated 195 serious violations from 2013 through 2017 and had recorded seven deaths, 20 worker hospitalizations and four severe injuries that did not require hospitalization. Some of the deaths occurred when:
- A barge capsized after a crane tilted over, drowning one worker
- A worker died after falling 98 feet from an elevator
- A worker suffered a fatal electric shock while replacing jumper wires on a high voltage transmission corner tower
In total, 83 of the companies selected for the study were cited with at least one safety violation. However, the GAO said the data wasn't available to determine how many of these violations happened on DOD jobs because OSHA inspections don't include that information.
In fact, the GAO said its investigation into jobsite safety on these projects was limited because OSHA does not require its inspectors to obtain a corporate identification number, which could be used to match contract information with safety data. Unless the agency implements such a requirement, the GAO determined, it will be difficult to get an accurate and full view of a company's safety history.
In addition, the GAO found that DOD officials have missed out on opportunities to review a company’s safety history prior to awarding contracts because of inconsistent rules requiring a safety review at the end of a contract. The GAO noted, however, that construction is one area where contractors are rated on safety upon completion of their contracts.
In order to ease the flow of safety information, the GAO made three recommendations:
- First, the agency suggested that OSHA start collecting corporate identification numbers as part of its inspection process and then make that information available via its search tool. The GAO raised this issue in March as well.
- Next, the GAO recommended that the DOD make sure contracting officers know that the OSHA database of inspections is a source of safety and health information for the companies they are considering for contracts.
- Finally, the GAO suggested that the DOD consider assigning a safety rating to companies engaging in high-risk activities like construction.