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Work-related injuries and illnesses have long plagued the construction industry, with employers and employees alike working to educate themselves and improve conditions in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) regulations. While OSHA has been tackling workplace hazards for nearly 50 years, its focus on human resources issues is a more recent implementation. 

More than any other industry, construction businesses must deal with frequent workers’ comp cases, onsite injuries and dangerous conditions. However, construction business owners must still deal with situations that regular businesses face too, including those of drugs, disability and violence and hostility. Although often overlooked, OSHA provides advice and training on dealing with these circumstances as well, and a well-rounded education about these circumstances can prevent liability issues and promote a more productive workplace. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

As an employer, requiring a drug test from potential employees could save the company from major headaches and liability issues in the future. While employers in many industries are scaling back on this requirement due to the increased legalized use of marijuana, it remains recommended by OSHA. After all, where marijuana use may not impact work performance in some fields, it is a significant consideration when it comes to operating heavy machinery. 

In 2016, OSHA introduced its “final rule,” which required employers in specific industries to electronically submit all injury/illness data through a secure OSHA database. This new rule brought up numerous questions regarding post-accident drug testing and how this could prevent self-reporting of injuries and illness. In the event that workplace incidents could be substance-related, some employers implement post-accident drug testing to determine whether or not substances were involved. While this may be an effective method for determining cause, it can lead to penalties from OSHA, which discourages employers from having unreasonable procedures for injury reporting. 

Asking employees to participate in post-accident drug tests could cause them to avoid reporting illnesses and injuries for fear of even larger consequence: losing their jobs. As a result, many training programs and OSHA courses exist for helping employers identify substance abuse prior to an incident, therefore eliminating post-accident turmoil. Signs of substance abuse that OSHA-certified courses typically present include: slow reactions, poor coordination, flawed decision making, absenteeism and insubordination. By recognizing these signs first, employers don’t have to worry about being slapped with a penalty for post-accident drug testing – especially if this turns out not to be the cause of the injury. 

Workers with Disabilities 

Prior to the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), manual labor employers heavily discriminated against hiring workers with disabilities. OSHA’s policy, in accordance with the ADA, is that an employee who can perform the job without posing a safety hazard to themselves or others is viable, irrelevant of disability. Similarly, businesses operating under OSHA standards should boast a safe work environment for all, furthering the fact that disabled individuals deserve an equal chance. 

Naturally, there may be elements of a workplace or a position that pose complications for disabled individuals. In construction sites, where multi-level structures and uneven terrain are common, accessibility issues can be a major consideration. Nonetheless, employers will need to engage in an evaluation of the environment, and should contact an expert from the American Occupational Therapy Association for a formal evaluation prior to turning away a potential employee.

Furthermore, employers will still need to make accommodations for individuals with disabilities within reasonable means. For example, an individual with hearing loss (especially if it is caused by their present work environment) must be offered sound abatement equipment before being reassigned or terminated. There is leeway when it comes to certain conditions and the ADA will recognize disability-related employer concerns if they comply with another federal regulation. Nonetheless, employers (or their HR departments) will need to find a reasonable balance between the requirements of OSHA and the ADA). 

Dealing with Hostility and Violence 

Particularly in high-stress environments, such as construction sites where factors like heat, noise and general discomfort affect mood, aggression in the workplace can be common. Whether it be in the form of seemingly innocent horseplay or a serious disagreement, OSHA training is available for employers to recognize and diffuse this behavior. Aggression in the workplace can be distracting for those involved and those witness to it, so employees should also receive proper training so they can be prepared to mediate and rise above this behavior. 

OSHA recommends that employers offer stress debriefing sessions and post-traumatic counseling services to those that have been part of a violent incident. Additionally, much like work-related injuries, these incidents are to be reported to OSHA, especially if law enforcement gets involved. Whether the threat be internal (a colleague/supervisor) or external (criminals from the outside attempting to rob or vandalize), employers need to take the proper precautions. In order to do so, OSHA recommends securing the workplace with surveillance systems, equipping workers in the field with cellphones and ensuring employee mental health needs are adequately met to avoid burnout – which can often lead to lashing out. 

Providing staff with training on these HR-related issues is just as important as ensuring they know the proper safety protocol. Harmony within both of these areas is pivotal to overall employee welfare, and consistency in one is hardly possible without consistency in the other. The OSHA website and Department of Labor have a list of certified training programs on the above matters and any related inquiries.

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