Capital Update 1/24/2023
OSHA inspected more construction sites last year than any other workplace
OSHA inspected construction workplaces last fiscal year more than it inspected any other industry, an agency administrator told attendees during a presentation at Associated General Contractors of America’s Safety and Health conference Wednesday. Stephen Boyd, deputy regional administrator of OSHA’s Region 6, offered a look at newly released construction fatality data and offered his thoughts on how to make jobsites safer. Boyd — who is based in Dallas and oversees several regional offices in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas — shared Bureau of Labor Statistics fatality data from 2021 and inspection information from OSHA’s fiscal year 2022, which ended Sept. 30 (BLS data usually lags by a calendar year). Falls remained the No. 1 cause of death on construction jobsites in 2021, with 378 workers dying as a result of a fall. That accounted for 38% of all jobsite worker deaths. Boyd said a large share of the falls happened on flat roofs or on skylights, likely because workers don’t have the same instinctual sense of caution that comes from working on a pitched roof.
Many of construction’s safety violations were on residential jobsites, and Boyd said 90% of those residential death and injury cases don’t reach abatement, which in OSHA parlance means the resolution of a problem, payment of a fine or both. Instead, many residential offenders will fold, change names or disappear in another fashion, making it impossible to track down those responsible and hold them accountable for failing to provide a safe workplace. “There’s really not a lot we can do as an agency,” Boyd told conference goers, commenting on the sheer number of residential projects and limited resources. “It’s a trend and it’s probably going to stay a trend.” On the other hand, general contractors on commercial projects rely on their longtime track records and reputation in the industry more than small home builders, so they are affected more when they are not in good standing with OSHA. Therefore, they much more frequently abate their fines and citations, he said.
Inspections and programs: In fiscal year 2022, just over half of all OSHA inspections were of construction jobsites, Boyd said. There’s debate, he said, about whether or not compliance assistance or enforcement are key to protecting workers. Boyd said employers think compliance assistance is key, and internally, many at OSHA favor stronger enforcement. In reality, Boyd said he finds them equally important. This year OSHA will continue to work on developing new standards. For example, Boyd said plans for developing the heat illness standard will continue, though it takes a long time to bring it to fruition.
Employer-OSHA relationship: Boyd emphasized that employers have rights over their jobsite — such as to be present and able to see all hazards that an inspector may find during an inspection —- and that OSHA is responsible for following specific procedures when it comes to inspections. He shared multiple stories about employers going above and beyond typical protocols to keep jobsites safe. In one example, Boyd said he had agreed to reduce the potential number of fines for a contractor using a broken and dangerous ladder if they simply got rid of it. Though employees seemed to merely put the ladder away, the superintendent produced the ladder and crushed it with the Bobcat to show Boyd and the workers that it was unacceptable to use. Boyd indicated he thinks that OSHA highlights a lot of citations and other bad news to flex its enforcement muscles, but there is room for positivity. “We don’t publicize the good things that we see,” Boyd said, saying that should change.
Construction input prices log biggest drop since April 2020
Both overall and nonresidential construction input prices tumbled 2.7% in December from the previous month, the largest monthly drop since April 2020, according to an Associated Builders and Contractors analysis. Despite that monthly drop, overall construction prices remain 7.9% higher than a year ago, while nonresidential construction input prices jumped 7.6% year over year, according to the report. Though the Producer Price Index shows improvement on the inflation front, the decline in input prices may be a double-edged sword as a sign of spreading economic weakness, according to Anirban Basu, ABC chief economist.
Inflation, continuing supply chain snarls and funding issues were among the areas of concern covered at the recent Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, where the focus was on the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act. A fractured Congress likely won’t rein in spending from the infrastructure law, but it’s unclear if lawmakers will maintain elevated transportation funding levels after 2026, said Fred Wagner, a partner at Venable and former chief counsel at the Federal Highway Administration. Full Story: Engineering News-Record (tiered subscription model)
Environmentally friendly practices and energy efficiency during design and construction are part of a holistic approach to low-carbon development. Michael Gustafson explores the reasons to aim for sustainability and the various facets of achieving CO2 reductions in architecture, engineering and construction. Full Story: Redshift
As mandated by law, OSHA is increasing its maximum penalties for violations to account for inflation. Among others, the penalty for serious, other-than-serious and posting requirement violations is rising to $15,625 from the previous $14,502. Full Story: The Construction Broadsheet
Widespread economic concerns, including high interest rates and inflation, are taking a toll on the construction industry, with construction starts expected to stall in 2023 and cement consumption forecasted to drop. The Portland Cement Association is predicting the first drop in US cement volume in 13 years, with US cement shipments to fall 3.5% compared to last year. Full Story: Concrete Products
Skanska USA is off to a fast start in 2023, announcing more than $900 million in projects, including an academic commons building at Virginia State University, a 242,546-square-foot middle school in Fuquay-Varina, N.C., and a new life sciences and engineering building at George Mason University. Skanska has also secured contracts for a data center in Phoenix for an unnamed client and circulation improvements to the Grand Central – 42nd Street Station in New York City. Full Story: Construction Dive
Massachusetts heads a list of the top 10 states with green building projects in 2022, as measured by LEED-certified gross square footage per capita, according to the US Green Building Council. However, the 3.76 square feet for Massachusetts falls well behind the figure of 46.06 for the District of Columbia. Full Story: Building Design + Construction (free registration)
A $311 million seismic renovation for a library at California State University in Los Angeles heads a list of the top 10 major planned library and museum construction projects across the country. Another notable project is a $184 million library at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Full Story: Daily Commercial News (Ontario)
The Producer Price Index for final demand declined 0.5 percent in December. Prices for final demand goods decreased 1.6 percent, and the index for final demand services rose 0.1 percent. The index for final demand increased 6.2 percent in 2022.
Sustainability and efforts to reduce carbon emissions took center stage at this year’s World of Concrete trade show in Las Vegas. In keeping with that theme, the event ran entirely on renewable energy over its three days, during which exhibitors demonstrated carbon-slashing products and construction practices. Full Story: Las Vegas Review-Journal (tiered subscription model)
Wholesale price growth cooled significantly at the end of 2022, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, suggesting that recent interest-rate increases may be helping to mitigate inflation. The Producer Price Index, which measures what companies pay for goods and services before they get into consumers’ hands, saw a 6.2% year-over-year increase in December, a lower reading than Wall Street had anticipated. Full Story: CNN
The Associated General Contractors of America joined 17 other industry groups in calling for a reversal of guidance on how state departments of transportation should assign priorities to projects that use funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The groups argue that the Federal Highway Administration document sets boundaries that are too strict, favoring maintenance and repairs of existing highways over projects to expand road and bridge capacity. Full Story: Engineering News-Record (tiered subscription model)
The Buy America mandate in the Build America, Buy America Act should prompt wastewater utilities to seek clarity from federal funding agencies about requirements for domestically produced materials for shovel-ready and future projects, writes Josh Mahan of Xylem. The mandates have been largely innocuous due to certain waivers, but the landscape is about to change once those waivers expire, Mahan writes. Full Story: Water and Wastes Digest
Construction is on track for an early-2025 finish for the $1.6 billion Foothill Gold Line Extension light-rail project in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley. The project is nearing the two-thirds completion mark, and when finished, the 9.1-mile line will move the Gold Line eastern terminus from Azusa to Pomona. Full Story: Los Angeles Business Journal (free registration)
Construction has commenced on a new high-capacity power transmission line linking Arizona and California. The 125-mile Ten West Link is seen as a potential conduit for solar energy in the desert near Phoenix. Full Story: The Associated Press