Environmental, Health, and Safety Issues for Construction: Municipal and State Workers Not Covered by OSHA

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Carnegie Mellon University
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A variety of potential environmental, safety and health issues can arise during a renovation or a construction project. Constructions sites are dynamic activities where the workers get involved in many different activities that may expose them to a variety of safety hazards, for example, falling objects, scaffolding, exposure to heavy construction equipment, working from rooftops or using temporary electrical circuits while operating electrical equipment and machinery in wet areas. Construction activities involve a wide range of activities including construction of new buildings, renovation of existing facilities and repairing significant alterations of the building system (Wang, 1993). Through the implementation of safe work practices, compliance with federal, state and local regulatory requirements, training, the workplace safety program aims at identifying, controlling or eliminating construction-related hazards. Construction is a high hazard industry, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed a webpage that provides workers and employers useful and up to date information on the construction industry. The report, tools and the resources provided by the website are designed to help those working in that sector whether one is a worker or the employer so that they can identify, reduce and eliminate any construction-related hazards. The OSHA Directorate of construction provides workplace safety standards and regulations to ensure safe working conditions for the nations construction workers and coordinates with and assists other regulatory agencies on the implementation and enforcement of important construction laws and standards ("Safety Health magazine issue archive, 2017). This paper aims at explaining the environmental, health and safety issues related to construction.

Only twenty-one states and Puerto Rico have federally approved Occupational Safety and Health Administration programs that cover the public employees, and they include; Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming("Safety Health magazine issue archive, 2014). Three states whose private sector workers are covered by federal OSHA Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, along with the Virgin Islands Therefore 26 other states leave their state and municipal workers unprotected by any federally approved occupational safety and health laws. Most people are very shocked to find out that the workplace safety and health protections that have been put in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) apply only to reserved sector workers and not all municipal and state government employees. States are allowed to run their own state OSHA programs instead of federal reportage of the private segment ("Safety Health magazine issue archive,2015). These appropriate state OSHA programs must be at least as operative as the federal platform and, unlike the federal Occupational Safety and Vigor Administration (OSHA), are required to cover both the private sector and their own state and local government workers. The unprotected state and homegrown regime employees are the good people who keep our state and metropolitan government functioning on a daily basis (Leigh, Paul, Marcin & Miller, 2004). They run the gamut from workers in high-risk jobs such as firefighters and law enforcers to workers in low-risk office jobs. They are the people who ensure that we have safe drinking water, make sure that our kids have decent parks and keep our legal system up and running to fight crime. The health and safety risk these people take every day to protect the citizens goes without saying. The argument is that most government employers take care of their employees

In California, people who provide drinking water and wastewater treatment for the city are protected by the OSHA regulations. Most people view this job as not dangerous, but on the contrary, the men and women who work in this department enter hundreds of underground vaults, pits, and trenches several times a year Leigh et al., (2004). Many of these trenches are in the middle of heavy traffic streets and highways which poses risks to workers on the street level who must try and control the never-ending flow of traffic. Chemicals are used throughout various waters department operations, and many of these constitute potential health hazards if not properly used. Operating large construction equipment like the earthmovers, cranes and the back holes is another one of their daily tasks that can become very tricky if appropriate safety measures are not followed. Chlorine gas is a significant gas used in keeping our drinking water safe. The gas can become hazard or lethal to the nearby citizens or workers if it is improperly handled. Office staffs are subjected to everything from first tunnel injuries to workplace violence from being assaulted by a customer. In short what I am trying to say is that, people who think that OSHA protections which are offered to a city water department are wrong. This workers experience in the municipal water department is one example of why the public sector also needs occupational safety health coverage. A lot of people are working in other job specialties within the state, and local government arena face no less hazardous safety, health and environmental risks and they deserve the same protection they would enjoy if they were working in the private sector

Approximately half of the fatal occupational injuries to government workers resulted from transportation incidents. The next largest exposure category was violence and assaults acts, which accounted for 11 percent of the workplace fatalities in the year 2000. A total of 4836 workers died from an occupational injury in 2015. This number increased slightly from 2014 and is the highest count since the year 2008 ("Safety Health magazine issue archive, 2015). Self- employed workers have consistently accounted for around one-fifth of fatal work injuries. The roadway incidents alone accounted for about one out of every four fatal work injuries (Goetsch, 2017). Overall the total for 2015 was higher by 15 cases over the 2014 total. Violence and other injuries by persons or animals saw the greatest decrease from the previous year while transportation incidents increased the most from 2014. In 2015, the totals for falls to a lower level were 648 fatal work injuries, down 2 percent from the count for 2014. Of the cases where the height of fall was known, more than 2 out of every five fatal falls were falls of 15 feet or less ("Safety Health magazine issue archive, 2016). About one-fifth cases with known height involved fall from more than 30 feet. Different occupational exposures to chemicals and toxic substances such as crystalline silica and asbestos, result in illness with a long latency period (Wang, 1993). The argument that government employers already take good care of their employees without command is obviously wrong. The number of deaths alone in the public sector contradicts this statement. If the public workers are well catered for, it could cost less to follow the OSHA standards because commitments required by the standards would have been made already.

A tragedy happened on the September 7th, 2016, where a 37-year-old male logger who was working as a choker setter in a skyline-skidding operation was killed when the sky list lost tension. This led to the carriage falling and crushing on him. It was his first day with his employer who was using a modified machine called an excaliner to provide the lift needed to skid the logs. The choker settler sounded the alerting horn, and the excaliner operator stopped the carriage. The chock settler locked the wagon on the skyline by remote control and went beneath the carriage to attach the chokers to the logs. While he was under the carriage, the draw works system motor stalled, and the skyline suddenly lost tension, causing the 1200 pound carriage to drop and crush him ("Safety Health magazine issue archive, 2016). After an investigation, it was found out that the tragedy was preventable if the employers had been responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment, free from recognized hazards associated with skyline skidding operations. The employers had not implemented secure site working procedures for skyline skidding operations. The employers should have also ensured that modifications to a machine that affects its capacity or safe services are only made with the written approval of the qualified engineer or the manufacturer.

There should be a safety, health and environmental committee in every company that will ensure that the company complies with all the required OSHA measures. The government should provide all the necessary resources to facilitate inspections in the industries to ensure that the OSHA regulations have been complied with. The companys management team should also put in place the measures to raise awareness among the employees about the OSHA regulations and its importance (Goetsch, 2017). The employees should be given training on the fire safety training or the first aid training. Employees working in hazardous areas should be educated about the prospective hazards and about the safety mechanisms that can help them in stressful situations.

Different safety professionals have rejected that safety costs too much. Most importantly not spending money to protect the municipal worker's health and safety send a message that such kind of workers is expendable, that it is easier and cheaper to kill or injure the employees rather than protect them (Goetsch, 2017). Many companies across the world have found that investments made on safety, health and environmental risks pays in more productive employees, fewer injuries, fewer accidents and deaths in workers. The benefits of investing in safety and health can be found in the OSHA. From the experience of many safety and health professionals, rates should be lowered in the states that have established high and safety requirements and OSHA oversights than rates in countries where nobody takes responsibility for workplace safety. Protection of workers is mostly found in private sectors, unlike the public sector where thousands have been killed, and others injured every year. Because the private sectors accept that workplace health, safety and environmental programs to prevent or reduce the effects of workplace hazard exposures, it is tough to understand why so many state and local governments do not offer better their workers protection with OSHA coverage. It is clear that safety suffers when there is no clear communication between the employees and the management and how things should be done. Safety for the public employees is a venture that should be established between the worker and the employee.


Goetsch, D.L (2017). Construction safety and the OSHA standards (2nd ed.). Prentice Hall. Pearson.

Leigh, Paul, J., Marcin, J., & Miller, T. (2004). Informal Jobs and Non-fatal Occupational Injuries. An Estimate Of The US GovernmentS Under Count Of Nonfatal Occupational Injuries. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/annhyg/meh009

Safety Health magazine issue archive: 2014. (2017). Safetyandhealthmagazine.com. Retrieved 2 November 2017, from http://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/issue-archive-2014

Wang, C. (1993). OSHA compliance and management handbook (1st ed.). Park Ridge, N.J., U.S.A.: Noyes Publications.

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