As I was saying …

OSHA's win is safety's loss

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Chicago, dismissed NRCA's petition for review of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) new fall-protection standard, concluding OSHA acted within its discretionary authority when it rescinded a "temporary rule" negotiated in 1995.

This means contractors now will have to provide safety nets, guardrails or personal fall-arrest systems for any project where the roof slope is 4:12 (18 degrees) or greater and potential for falls is 6 feet or greater (with exceptions allowed in limited circumstances).

Recently, I've had the opportunity to meet with numerous residential roofing contractors and have yet to find one who ever has used a safety net for a residential project. And only a small handful have used guardrails, so the effect of the new rule—which will be enforced beginning June 16—is we'll be tying off our workers.

There are, unfortunately, two other effects of the new rule.

The first is unprofessional contractors simply will not use fall protection. Many fail to use it now, and their competitive advantage only will increase when the new rule takes effect—especially with regard to reroofing and repair projects. OSHA's limited amount of data regarding residential fall protection indicates virtually all falls from roofs have occurred when no fall protection was used. Imposing more complicated—and expensive—rules just makes it more tempting to cheat and puts more workers at risk.

The second, more troubling effect is people will get hurt. A survey NRCA conducted in 2010 demonstrated we will be facing a host of new tripping hazards; anchoring to structures that may not be able to withstand a 5,000-pound load; and asking workers to climb to a ridge to secure a personal fall-arrest system so they can repair a leak caused by, say, an ice dam at an eave.

When OSHA announced the new fall-protection rule in December 2010, it promised to conduct extensive "outreach and training" to help contractors comply. For the most part—except for some Web-based information that applies solely to new construction—we're still waiting for OSHA to fulfill that promise. OSHA doesn't understand that some 80 percent of our industry's work is repair and replacement and its new one-size-fits-all rule will be a nightmare for roofing contractors.

It will be more important than ever for NRCA members—and all Professional Roofing readers—to share with us their experiences with the new rule and OSHA's enforcement of it. Obviously, we want our members to comply with the law, but we also want our industry's workers to go home safely at night. It's a shame when those two objectives aren't on parallel tracks.

Bill Good is NRCA's executive vice president.


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