Safe Solutions

Safety monitor snafu

Recently, some roofing contractors have expressed concern about a position taken by a few Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance officers regarding the warning-line and safety monitor rules in Subpart M of OSHA's federal fall-protection regulations.

On various occasions in federal and state jurisdictions throughout the U.S., roofing workers have been informed by OSHA field personnel inspecting job sites that a safety monitor must be present at all times to monitor employees working inside and outside warning lines. This view of the warning-line and safety monitor rules contradicts the plain meaning of other fall-protection regulations, as well as previous OSHA letters of interpretation regarding the nature of warning-line systems, and could lead to roofing contractors receiving unwarranted OSHA citations.

The b(10) exception

OSHA's fall-protection regulations set out three basic fall-protection methods for employees working at heights of 6 feet or more: guardrails, safety nets and personal fall-arrest systems (PFAs).

For work performed on low-slope roofs, an exception to these three methods is set out that allows use of a warning-line system with either guardrails, safety nets, PFAs or a safety monitor. This exception sometimes is called the "b(10) exception" because it is contained in 29 CFR §1926.501(b)(10).

Interpretation issues

Because the b(10) exception provides for the use of a warning-line system and safety monitor, some compliance officers argue a safety monitor must be present at all times—even when workers only are working inside the warning line—and engaged in monitoring duties. This view is incorrect for a number of reasons.

When OSHA first adopted the b(10) exception, warning-line systems were introduced as fall-protection measures that could provide adequate protection to roofing workers installing low-slope roof systems. Early discussion during the rule-making process of warning-line and safety monitoring systems clearly set out a safety monitor's duty to watch workers who were performing roofing work outside a warning line. Subsequent letters of interpretation from OSHA support a narrow focus of a safety monitor's duty.

In addition, another regulatory provision supports the limited scope of a safety monitor's responsibilities.

OSHA rules state that a warning line must be erected around an entire work area and any mechanical equipment being used should be no less than 6 to 10 feet from a roof edge, depending on the direction of equipment travel. However, 29 CFR §1926.502(h)(2) states mechanical equipment may not be used in areas where safety monitors are monitoring workers engaged in low-slope roofing work.

Therefore, to agree with this strained interpretation of a safety monitor's duties, mechanical equipment also cannot be used inside a warning line because a safety monitor is monitoring workers inside the line.

This view is patently improper. Consider an absurd example of its application: A warning-line system is being used to protect workers performing a tear-off on a 100-square roof, and the warning line is set up around the entire building's perimeter. A safety monitor is required to monitor workers inside the warning line, so gravel sweepers and roof cutters cannot be used to assist in the tear-off, which, therefore, has to be done entirely by hand.

Letters of interpretation from OSHA dating to just after the new fall-protection rules were published contradict this purported requirement for a safety monitor to monitor workers inside a warning line. The so-called "M-6 Interpretation" issued in February 1995, states "(t)he monitor need only monitor employees while employees are in the danger zone, on a flat roof, the danger zone is the area outside the warning line."

Develop an understanding

You should develop a clear understanding of Subpart M's requirements. With a thorough knowledge of these rules, you will be better able to discuss fall-protection options and compliance demands.

Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of risk management.


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