The History and Evolution of Construction Safety Regulations The emphasis on safety regulations in the construction industry has grown exponentially over the past 125 years. Today the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is the primary agency for safety legislation in the United States. Construction regulations are addressed in section 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). But how did OSHA come about? In this report I will address the evolution of construction regulations in the United States.
In 1887 Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act to regulate the railroad industry.The act created the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). This was a huge step in legislation because it became the first regulatory agency created by the federal government. The original intent of the commission was to control the railroad monopoly by regulating price gouging. However, the ICC laid the foundation for safety regulations after publishing accident statistics within the railroad industry in 1889.
The publishing led Congress to pass the Federal Safety Appliance Act of 1893 which mandated air brakes and automatic couplers on all railcars.This was the government’s first attempt at improving safety on the job site. Railroad companies were slow to react to the new legislation. Death and injuries on railroad sites continued to be considered a minor inconvenience by the massive corporations, despite the government’s insistence on safety. It wasn’t until it started costing company’s money, that safety would become a true focus.
Despite efforts made by the Federal Safety Appliance Act to increase safety for rail workers, injuries and fatalities were still all too common. The average fatality rate for railroad workers was one in three hundred.This didn’t seem to bother the railroad companies who paid very little, if anything at all, to the families of employees that died. Due to public outcry over wrong doing by the railroad companies, the federal government was forced to intervene. In 1908 Congress passed the Federal Employer’ Liability Act. The act gave workers and their families the power they needed to fight railroad companies over death or injuries caused by unsafe working environments.
Then in 1910, New York became the first state to enact a worker’s compensation law. Over the next ten years, almost every other state followed in their footsteps.Once companies lost the despicable luxury of ignoring restitution to workers or their families, they were forced to take a closer look at safety as a cost savings measure. In my opinion, workers compensation laws are the foundation upon which workplace safety was built. By 1920, forty-four states had passed workers compensation laws. In 1913, a group of industrial leaders met and formed the National Safety Council (NSC).
Finally, businesses were working together for the betterment of the American worker. The goal of the NSC was to make safety information available to all who were concerned.While the focus of the NSC was later broadened to include traffic and non-industrial safety, it was still instrumental in expanding knowledge and the need for safety in the work place. As safety became more important nationwide, the construction industry followed suit in sharing its knowledge in an organized manner. Although building codes had been around for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until 1915 that standards became more uniform. In 1915, the Building Officials and Code Administration formed for the sole purpose of exchanging knowledge and ideas about building safety and construction regulation.
In 1916 the Travelers Insurance Company published “Safety in Building Construction. ” It was written in response to the large number of deaths both on the job site and post construction. The publishing compiled the most commonly known building codes and incorporated the best known safety applications for each job. The topics covered everything from demolition work and scaffolding, to concrete mixing and protection for the public.
It was the most comprehensive publication combining safety and construction and became widely accepted as the industry standard for many years.While knowledge of construction safety flourished, legislation regarding safety remained stagnate. It wasn’t until 1934 that safety in the workplace would make a major leap forward with the development of the Bureau of Labor Standards. It was the first permanent Federal agency established to promote safety for the entire American work force. Safety on the job was beginning to take precedence with the government, but industry leaders fought hard against it. In 1938 the Bureau passed the Fair Labor Standards Act which set a minimum wage and banned child labor.
This greatly affected all industries, including the construction industry. While several other general laws were passed that affected the construction industry as well as all other industries, it would be yet another thirty-five years before safety legislation would be written specifically for construction safety. This would take place with the passing of the Construction Safety Act of 1969 which required the Secretary of Labor to seek the advice of the newly formed Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) in determining construction standards.The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established as a special agency to administer the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed in 1970.
OSHA used the Bureau of Labor Standards as the foundation for creating a program that would ultimately become the primary legislative agency for safety in all industries. For OSHA to be effective in the construction industry it became necessary for them to consult with ACCSH. Their partnership became official in 1973, making it mandatory for OSHA to seek council from the ACCSH before passing any legislation directly affecting the construction industry.Since 1970, workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent.
It hasn’t been an easy road achieving these numbers and there will always be room for improvement. Today, safety is as much a part of the construction industry as lumber and steel. Companies can no longer afford to ignore the need for safety on the job site. Whether it’s as simple as steel toe boots and hard hats or as complex as a permit required confined space program, OSHA has gone to great lengths to insure the safety of the American worker.Unlike even half a century ago, these regulations are enforceable by the Federal government.
As construction projects become more complex, there will continue to be a need for updated safety legislation. Fortunately we have a system in place that allows the knowledge of the construction industry to be shared with the lawmakers of the land. Together they continue to work to protect workers on the job site and allow both employers and employees to truly put safety first. SOURCES "Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health. " 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1912.
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