As I was saying …

OSHA, fall protection and the real world

In May 2010, Tom Shanahan, NRCA's associate executive director of risk management, and I had the opportunity to meet with senior staff members of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). We met in the office of David Michaels, the head of the agency, who had been called out of town to attend to revenue opportunities for OSHA in the Gulf of Mexico. Tom and I were left unattended in Michaels' office and had the chance to review his book collection.

There, we found titles that included The Dark Sun, The Politics of Cancer, Death in the Workplace and Michaels' book, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.

We had the feeling this wasn't going to be a fun meeting, and Michaels' staff didn't disappoint.

The subject was residential fall protection, and we tried to make the case that not only do slide guards work but they are used. And, we said, requiring more burdensome methods of fall protection would only make it more likely unprofessional contractors would do nothing. Most falls, data suggest, occur when no fall protection of any kind is provided.

Well, we were told if contractors won't provide fall protection, OSHA will have to conduct city-by-city "sweeps" until contractors are frightened into compliance. Now, I have read a lot about employer safety programs during my career and the word "frighten" is just not used in conjunction with improving worker safety. Unless, apparently, you live in Washington, D.C.

So now we have a new fall-protection "instruction" from OSHA, which has no data to support it and is based on OSHA's belief that the agency knows roofing safety better than the roofing industry.

More than a decade ago, NRCA was the first association to form a voluntary partnership with OSHA with the hope that the enforce-and-fine model could be changed. It turns out to have been a false hope.

By the way, Tom and I had a subsequent meeting with OSHA officials, including Michaels, in December. We made our case again and were told the dialogue would continue. Eight days later, the new rule was published.

It's so much easier to govern, apparently, when you don't have to pay attention to data or affected stakeholders. Stay tuned: This issue is far from over.

Bill Good is NRCA's executive vice president.


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