The letter from Jeffrey B. Sodoma about safety conditions shown in a photo within ENR’s Year in Construction photo essay reflect how out of date OSHA regulations are. OSHA can only enforce the regulations that are in the applicable 29 CFR 1926 or 1910 standards. OSHA can enforce only laws that are written and/or interpreted by the legal system.
Mr. Sodoma’s observation about the photograph showing individuals standing at the edge of a deep excavation is an example of how OSHA is behind the times in safety. The only section in 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P (Construction Safety Orders Excavation section) that deals with fall protection is 1926.651(l), which states, "Walkways shall be provided where employees or equipment are required or permitted to cross over excavations. Guardrails which comply with 1926.502(b) shall be provided where walkways are 6 feet or more above lower levels."
Death from falls and trench cave-ins continues to be two of the top four causes of fatalities in the construction industry. Yet OSHA has not deemed it necessary to update safety regulations for individuals working in and around trenches where there is a fall hazard.
I continue to applaud ENR for showing construction jobsite conditions the way they are. Pictures of unsafe conditions, even when they may be in compliance with OSHA regulations, shows the construction industry still has a long way to go before safety conditions improve.
We are in the midst of an important debate in Washington, D.C., about an important economic stimulus bill and the role of infrastructure spending in that bill. Many make the case that infrastructure spending won’t have the desired "stimulus" effect. They may be right, but perhaps we need to step back and understand how we arrived at this point and what it will take to get past it.
The current economic crisis has been ascribed to many failures, but perhaps one of the most systemic doesn’t get enough attention: the prevalent short-term focus with little regard to mounting longer-term risks. The current debate on infrastructure’s role in economic stimulus reflects a continuation of that short-term focus.
Infrastructure risks and needs are rapidly mounting. The release of the most recent ASCE report card places the cost of restoring our national infrastructure to acceptable levels at $2.2 trillion, up from $1.6 trillion just four years ago.
Infrastructure needs require a long- term commitment and a long-term fix. The stimulus bill provides our national leadership with the opportunity to send an important signal that they are prepared to address this long-term issue. Failure to send this signal would show disregard for the long-term risks that led to this crisis.
The debate around increased infrastructure spending should focus on restoring long-term economic health. It should be about committing to improve economic competitiveness. Real economic stimulation only will come about when businesses see long-term growth opportunities and make the commensurate long-term investments in research, work force and capital investment.