It's been a while
Henry Staggs, NCCER Master Trainer
January 4th, 2021
The guy in Florida
It's been a while since I wrote something about fall protection. I have been busy working on The School of Roofing. Which is the reason I decided to write about fall protection. To help emphasize the need for better industry-wide standards, which will come from a more standardized and consistent industry training culture.
Today I opened my email and found an article about a roofer in Jacksonville Florida whose facing jail time. He was hit with a $2.2 million dollar fine and like most of us. He can not pay it. It's pretty much putting him out of business. Wait, don't be so fast to feel bad for the guy. He was given chance after chance to get it right, and he didn't. Honestly, keeping guys safe on a residential roof is pretty easy.
It cost maybe a couple of hundred dollars to set a roofer up. It's the law and has been since 1971. He was in and out of court, paying lawyers I assume. Looking back, a few hundred dollars isn't so bad. But Henry! Smaller companies can't afford it. What? A smaller company has maybe three to seven people in it. Not all of those folks will be on the roof. The actual cost is around a grand. Two grand tops! Bey ya' his lawyer has charged him a ton more than that.
My friend in the government
I started working on The School of Roofing a few years back. The first thing I did was meet with the Director of the Office of Apprenticeship. The man was fantastic! He has a passion for the trades and our youth and loves to see industries working hard to train their people. Unfortunately, the roofing industry here in Arizona has no solid apprenticeship program. But things are changing, and I expect that will change as well in the next couple of years.
Every so often he sends me OSHA violations he finds on roofers across the nation. Some of them are damned serious ones too. I am saving them for a larger article down the road a little bit. He believes as I do, that nearly every one of these accidents could have been prevented.
That brings me to the fall protection complaint
I call it a complaint because a few roofers gave me a tongue lashing for calling out the industry. As if my pointing out the problem is the cause of the problem. With all due respect guys, we can drive through any neighborhood in any city. And find three or four roofers without fall protection. With a cost of only a few grand perhaps, they can easily be set up. And as for training goes. There are numerous options including authorized OSHA trainers or even the manufactures sometimes offer something.
The challenge is that OSHA or the state-run program guys, don't have the human resources to keep an eye on the residential market. This is why you'll find so many fewer violations in the commercial market. Oh, and by the way, OSHA and state-run programs don't typically work on weekends. Which is a mistake in my opinion, and these guys who hate fall protection gear. They take advantage of their absence.
The other side of that coin is that a ton of roofers believe that the law only applies to commercial projects. Think about that? It's not a guess, they believe it to be true and factual. If the investigators are busy keeping the commercial jobs safe. While neglecting the residential market. That inadvertently reinforces the myth that fall protection is not required on a residential job.
One roofer told me that as long as his guys are not within six feet of the edge of a steep-sloped roof. They don't need fall protection. That is the most wrong thing I have heard in years. The fact is that if you are working more than six feet from the ground on whatever kind of structure. Fall protection is required and has been since 1971.
What does this mean for you?
I don't know what it means for you. You could be anyone reading this blog. And congratulations on getting this far. If you read my rambling to this point, you are a patient person.
For the roofing contractor its means using and enforcing the use of proper fall protection. I realize that some roofers have a real issue with it. And will fight tooth and nail about it. There are the hardcore guys who take it as some sort of an insult to their skill level or even their manhood. Believe me, I have had that conversation with a lot of roofers. I get the challenge, I know it's tough.
FALLS ARE THE LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH IN CONSTRUCTION. In 2018, there were 320 fatal falls to a lower level out of 1,008 construction fatalities (BLS data). These deaths are preventable. - OSHA's Fall Prevention Campaign | Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Shall we tell all the families of those 320 dead workers that we didn't want to bruce someone's ego? That the roofer just did not want to wear fall protection. I tell you what, I don't want to be the guy who has to face the families of a dead roofer. And let's not forget the guy in Florida. His business is done, he might even end up in jail. He is probably going to lose everything. Which sucks for him.
But let's face it. Its been the law longer than most of us have been working in the industry. It's really not that expensive to set up a fall protection program. And there are more than enough people who can help. For example, www.safetyhelptoday.com offers a subscription-based program. It covers all your needs and they will gladly work with you. If not them, you can always reach out to any other Authorized OSHA Trainer or the manufacturer.
Is it worth a life? Is it worth losing everything you worked for? Absolutely not!
Are you ganna call me?
I mentioned before that I am working on a larger article about this challenge. If you are in the industry, a roofer, a contractor, a safety trainer, whatever you do. I would absolutely love to hear your story. You can call me or email me. Whichever you feel more comfortable doing. Your story might help save someone's life.
Henry Staggs, NCCER Master Trainer