Safety Guidelines 101 – How Standards Evolve over Time

Ross Group has always worked hard to maintain safe job sites for our employees, while providing quality projects that meet our clients’ needs and expectations. To accomplish this, our Health, Safety, and Environmental (HSE) Department works tirelessly to stay on top of industry trends and potential changes to safety regulations that could impact our work. We continued our safety conversation with HSE Specialist Aaron Smith to learn more about how safety guidelines change over time.

First things first. Why do industry safety guidelines change?

The main reason they change is simple - to keep workers safe while delivering a quality project to the client. As research regarding worker safety is conducted and our understanding grows, new regulations and recommendations are proposed, evaluated, and eventually implemented. For instance, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released construction standards for silica several years ago, requiring employers to limit worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in construction materials like sandstone, concrete, or brick. When construction crews work with materials containing it, tiny dust particles are created that can travel deep into the lungs. To limit this, OSHA created the new standard (29 CFR 1926.1153), which was accompanied by Table 1, a handy tool employers can use to match 18 of the most common construction tasks with effective dust control methods.


While we knew respirable silica could cause silicosis - an incurable and sometimes deadly lung disease - HSE specialists had limited tools to minimize worker exposure before the law was changed, because it just wasn’t required. Now, the two million construction workers exposed to silica have tangible regulations that keep them safe on the job.


How do safety guidelines change?

The processes and procedures involved in changing OSHA regulations are quite detailed, and it takes years for new safety regulations to be fleshed out and adopted. When a new issue is identified that may need to be regulated, a review committee is formed. They develop the draft regulations and then OSHA opens the proposed changes to comment from the public. This cycle goes back and forth after the government provides more input. This means many current OSHA standards have been in existence with very few changes over the past 10, 20, or even 30 years.


However, other industry safety guidelines, such as American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards, adapt their recommendations fairly often to help contractors maintain a safe work environment.


This process can become complicated when you complete projects for the Department of Defense (DoD), as their EM 385-1-1 standards often require ANSI’s more stringent safety guidelines. This is the case for fall protection procedures, for instance. Like OSHA, the DoD has a rigorous review process for potential safety regulation changes, with a review board that drafts the language and multiple opportunities for public comment.


In Ross Group’s HSE department, we closely follow the review processes for both entities so we can be prepared for changes on the horizon. Our HSE staff carefully examines new standards when they’re released, incorporating the requirements and considering recommendations for our internal safety standards. When OSHA’s silica standard was published, Ross Group was one of the first contractors in the area to offer re-training for personnel. We always try to remain aware of industry trends and work to keep all staff on job sites up to speed. That’s just one of the reasons why we haven’t had a lost time accident in 10 years.

As you can undoubtedly surmise, safety isn’t just important to folks like Aaron at Ross Group - it is paramount company-wide. In addition to having no lost time accidents in the past decade, we have maintained an experience modification rate (EMR) of less than one, with an incident rate of just 0.7 so far in 2020, thanks to both our dedicated team of HSE specialists and the continued guidance from the safety industry.


For more information on safety in the construction industry, check out www.osha.gov/construction.

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