- OSHA will be conducting unannounced weekend inspections at Colorado jobsites in an effort to curb fall and trench accidents.
- The agency announced its "Weekend Work" initiative in a press release, where it pointed to six worker fatalities from falls, as well as three deaths associated with excavation collapses and trenching incidents in the state over the last two years.
- “Our Weekend Work initiative will identify and address construction-related hazards at work sites in 10 different counties along the Front Range on days when work sites often go unchecked,” said Nancy Hauter, OSHA's acting regional administrator in Denver, in the release. “This is a proactive effort to identify hazardous work sites and to ensure workers end their shifts safely.”
Carol Sigmond, a partner in the construction practice group at law firm Greenspoon Marder, said the move is in line with how the agency has rolled out initiatives in the past, by focusing on problem areas.
"If they see a pattern of death, they're going to respond," Sigmond said.
Chauntra Rideaux, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor, said the initiative is specifically targeting a period when contractors may let their guard down.
"Weekends are a unique opportunity for OSHA to conduct inspections and reinforce safety regulations at a time when oversight may be relaxed," Rideaux said in an email to Construction Dive, noting that Colorado is the only state in the region conducting weekend inspections.
The focus on construction work during weekends, when a more relaxed attitude can be present on jobsites, could also be sending a message to contractors, particularly in Colorado where residential construction has been booming.
"Construction doesn't stop just because it's Saturday or Sunday," said Joel Nobles, a consultant for workplace safety firm YellowBird, who lives in a new home community in Colorado Springs and sees weekend jobsite activity firsthand. "Most workers have never seen OSHA on the weekend, so they might think they can get away with a little more working at heights without fall protection, or without shoring up trenches and excavations."
'Business as usual'
The move could signify at least a partial return, under President Joe Biden, to a more methodical approach for the agency, whose presence in enforcing worksite safety was often diminished under former President Donald Trump's administration. During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, site visits were limited and the agency faced a shortfall of compliance officers, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.
But now, that may be changing.
"There does seem to be a thoughtful, deliberative process within this administration in terms of worker safety," Sigmond said. "This rollout may reflect some of that effort."
At the same time, Sigmond said the agency hasn't been as visible under Biden as many in the safety and compliance community anticipated.
"I think many people, myself included, expected the Biden administration to be more active than the prior administration," Sigmond said. "I think they have tried to depoliticize the agency and put the technocrats back in charge, but they are moving very cautiously."
For example, while OSHA under the Trump administration declined to issue an emergency temporary standard to address COVID-19 in the workplace, it appeared that would change after Biden signed an executive order on his first full day in office ordering the agency to reconsider its decision.
But when an ETS was finally issued this month, it was very narrow, and applied mainly to healthcare workers, rather than all industries.
For Nobles, the Colorado program seems like more of a return to normal than anything else.
"I would call it business as usual," Nobles said. "Inspections are something OSHA has always done."