Fall Protection Enforcement Continues to Rise
Complying with OSHA's revised roofing safety requirements has gotten a lot harder for trades working on residential roofs since the agency began enforcing the new standard in 2013.
These workers, who had long been able to avoid trouble by using roof brackets and planks, must now comply with OSHA's full fall protection standard (29 CFR 1926.501). This includes a harness and anchored safety line for each worker, along with training and administrative details that contractors need to satisfy.
The new standard officially went into effect at the end of 2010, but significant enforcement began in 2013. OSHA didn't return requests for information on how well the standard is working, or on how enforcement has increased, but roofing industry people report more inspections and more fines.
Mark Paskell of The Contractor Coaching Partnership, an OSHA-certified safety trainer, estimates that jobsite visits have increased by more than 60% since last year, with dozens of new inspectors driving around scrutinizing residential jobsites.
Dealers can help their roofing contractor customers by being fully conversant with the 2010 standard, and serving as a knowledge resource—perhaps even hosting a seminar on the standard for roofers, with an OSHA representative.
Contractors who have never gotten an OSHA visit may be shocked at the penalties for non-compliance. According to Harry Dietz, director of enterprise risk management with the National Roofing Contractors Association, a first-time violation can cost as much as $7,000; a repeat offense, a whopping $70,000. Actual fines depend on how serious the inspector considers the violation.
Potential violations go beyond equipment use: Contractors can also get into trouble for failing to document training programs and safety policies.
Employers and employees must have received OSHA-approved safety training prior to being exposed to hazards. The contractor must also have a written safety plan that includes, among other things, detailed policies covering work rules, jobsite practices, and training programs, as well as the company's procedure for ensuring compliance. Although OSHA's website outlines the required elements, Paskell says that even some contractors who have taken the training are unsure how to satisfy those requirements, so they end up hiring a consultant like him.
Besides the initial training, the contractor must also hold weekly jobsite safety meetings. The OSHA inspector will ask to see documentation of each meeting, including who attended and the topics covered.
Fortunately, there's an app for that.
For an annual cost of $89, Safety Meeting app will display a list of topics, and an outline for each topic, on an iPhone or Android device. The meeting leader can use the app to record the time, place, topic, and attendance for each meeting. This data is stored in the Cloud, where it can be quickly retrieved if OSHA comes calling.
While the meeting app is a bargain, full compliance is a bit more expensive. Paskell says that the cost for a contractor with a four-person crew to buy the equipment, get the required training, and hire a consultant to set up a fully-compliant safety program can be as high as $10,000.
People who have been working with the standard can offer some advice on cutting costs and staying out of trouble.
One way to hold down costs is to spread them around. Cincinnati-area roofer Dave Molloy's solution was to join a cooperative with five other local roofing contractors. "We share a safety director who teaches the OSHA courses and conducts our weekly safety meetings," he says. The director also does random inspections of jobsites, viewing them as an OSHA inspector would.
Molloy notes that ongoing labor costs will also be higher under the new rules. The time needed for jobsite meetings, plus the fact that the safety equipment slows down production raise labor costs by about 10% on an average job, he estimates.
The most challenging part of the safety program is getting workers to consistently follow it, he says. "Roofers are judged partly on how much they install each day, and this slows them down."
He's found the solution to be consistent enforcement. If a worker removes a safety line when on the roof, for example, the job supervisor writes a citation. Workers are suspended after two written warnings, and terminated after three warnings during a 60-day period. These actions are documented and saved. "If an OSHA inspector asks how you handle noncompliant workers, the fact that we suspend or fire them carries a lot more weight than if we simply talked to the worker."
Supervisors can be reluctant to cite guys on their own crew, but Molloy says that it's up to the company owner to make sure this happens. "OSHA citations are levied on the company, not the employee. The employee needs to have a stake in compliance." He does think it best to include a carrot with the stick. If, for example, a roofing crew has a consistently exemplary safety record, he will give every member of the crew a gift certificate.
Of course the fact that a company is trying to do everything right doesn't guarantee that an inspector won't find something wrong. In that case, it's wise to consult an attorney, especially for a serious violation. "The issue is less the fine than the fact that the violation is on your record," says Amanda Weaver, an attorney with Richmond, Va., law firm Williams Mullen, who works on OSHA-related cases. She says that an attorney with OSHA experience will work to get the classification reduced.
"A serious violation sets the company up for heightened surveillance, and if there's another incident in the future, the penalties will be higher."—Charles Wardell