Last year, OSHA passed several long-awaited rules and regulatory changes that significantly impact construction by adding more layers of compliance to existing standards, along with increasing noncompliance penalties and fines for violators. More than ever, it's critical that those in construction understand and comply with OSHA requirements and take all possible measures to prevent worker injuries and illnesses.

Effective implementation of EHS software and other technologies can be an important driver in minimizing operational risks, promoting financial stability and driving performance.

Environmental, health and safety (EHS) software systems aimed at ensuring workplace safety and compliance have evolved to help users, especially those in the construction industry, offset additional EHS challenges brought on by the changing regulatory landscape.

Complex Safety Regulations & Violator Penalties

Several recent OSHA developments have resulted in tougher safety regulations and stricter violator penalties for employers, especially those in construction.

Because of these changes, some construction companies are turning to EHS software that offers solutions for high priority areas like incident management, compliance management, audits and inspections and safety meetings as way to better control safety and compliance risks and root out workplace hazards before OSHA ever arrives.

In 2016, OSHA changed its inspection model to a new protocol that focuses on inspection quality versus the quantity. Instead of directing inspectors to conduct a set number of inspections, they now use a new unit of measurement: the enforcement unit.

Weighted on a nine-point scale, routine inspections only expected to take a few hours are valued as one enforcement unit, while inspections that take longer and are more complex could receive up to eight units. The adjustment allows inspectors to spend more time on complex inspections, especially relating to hazards that can lead to the most serious consequences, resulting in more rigorous inspections than may have occurred in the past.

Higher penalties also took effect, increasing the maximum limit for fines by nearly 80 percent.

The agency also plans to continue to adjust penalties for inflation each year, meaning that maximum penalties could continue to increase annually.

Software solutions that address these areas – many of which available through the cloud – give users the ability to track deadlines, implement corrective actions and deploy employee trainings in real-time seamlessly on one dashboard. With better access to EHS information across the organization, users more easily can identify areas that need improvement and ensure that overall safety goals and compliance requirements are being met.

GHS and the Future of Chemical Safety

GHS adoption accelerated an influx of new Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). Employers covered by the standard need to manage their SDS library to ensure they have the most up-to-date documents available to workers. This is another area where technology is a useful aid in safeguarding employees and maintaining compliant worksites.

OSHA's final deadline for its adoption of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) occurred last year, ending a four-year transition period during which employers, chemical manufacturers and distributors were required to adopt the revised Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom).

While those in construction retained many of the same core responsibilities that previously had been in place, the new GHS provisions required those covered by the HazCom standard to update their written HazCom plans as necessary, update workplace labels, replace MSDS libraries with SDSs, train employees on the format changes to SDSs and shipped container labels, and revise workplace labeling systems and the written plan, as well as any newly-identified chemical hazards resulting from chemical manufacturers' re-classification process.

Since 2012, HazCom violations have ranked second on OSHA's annual top 10 list of violations, with the most common citations issued for failure to maintain a written HazCom plan, lack of training and labeling failures and issues related to employee access to SDSs.

With GHS changes still relatively new to many workers, employers must continue to make HazCom training and compliance a priority to avoid potential penalties or fines. The agency also plans to continue reviewing future editions of the GHS to determine whether to align its HazCom standard with information presented in newer versions of the system.

Since the United Nations currently publishes new editions of GHS on a two-year cycle, employers covered by the HazCom standard should anticipate and prepare for future updates.

A good electronic solution provider can help automate the updating process by automatically supplying updated documents as they become available. With a better view into the organizations' hazardous chemical footprint, software users can make better decisions about compliance, workplace safety and safer hazardous chemical use.

In addition to these tools, a good provider also can put all of that critical safety information into the hands of supervisors and employees in the field via mobile devices, making worksite safety information easily accessible – even offline when internet connectivity is limited or unavailable.