Henry Staggs, RRO
April 17th, 2020
To fall or not to fall?
Should never be the question!
The last I wrote a harsh article about roofers lacking fall protection, one of the more well known commercial contractors called and yelled at me. Said that my article was personally offensive to him and that he and his guys are always safe. Then he talked about how hard it is to make guys wear fall protection, and asked the question "when is the employee responsible for his safety." He may very well be on top of his safety program; I don't know, I have never been on one of his sites. However, that article was written to the industry in general, not any specific contractor, and no place in the article was his or any other name mentioned. Still, as crazy as I may sound, I enjoyed the call, the guy is passionate about safety, and that is the kind of passion that every contractor should have toward their worker's safety and well being. To answer his questions about when the employee is responsible, as far as I know, never. I am not a lawyer, and this is not at all legal advice. But as I understand it, if a worker gets hurt on the job, the employer is held accountable.
With the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.
The law is to protect employees, and the duty of the employer to identify hazards and protect their employees. This means finding the dangers, providing the training and the equipment to keep the workers safe, whatever it takes. One of the problems roofing contractors face is that old 'cats away mice will play" scenario. Sadly, installers will simply NOT tie off if there is no authority there to make them, and believe me, they have a lot of justifications for it, but none that are really valid or important enough to die for. For example, "it slows me down," so getting the work done an hour sooner is worth dying? Or "It is less safe being tied off, I could trip," so tripping on the roof is worse than fall off the roof?
They can get away with this because they know they can simply walk off the job and go work for that other guy who does not force them to wear fall protection. Or does not supervise their jobs very well, and lets the installers do whatever they want. Just take a drive through any neighborhood or new construction, and you will see what I am saying is true. If you do find a roofer who is tied off, that is amazing and unusual. Back to the contractor who called me that day, he said it was frustrating because there are roofing contractors who don't make their guys wear fall protection. Not only do they risk the lives of their workers, but they also do the job for much less since they are not paying for the safety they can do that.
Let's look at residential roofing, which is the worst offender. How can we stop this problem?
If you see something, say something. Call ADOSH and report it, or call the contractor and let them know what you see, take a photo and send it. If you just go by and say nothing, you are not part of the solution, are you?
If you are a homeowner, DONT let anyone work on your roof without proper fall protection if someone gets hurt can you live with that? And there is also your liability to consider if that contractor does not care about the safety of his work do you think he is covering them with workman's compensation? Also, make sure that you KNOW if your contractor is using a subcontractor, who has to be licensed and insured in addition to the contractor. So you know, subs can not work "under" anyone else license. And of course its the law that a roofer wears fall protection, what insurance company covers breaking the law?
OK, what about the new builds?
There are numerous contractors, workers, and representatives of the developers walking around, and even so, there are violations everywhere? How did they get so complacent? I think that developers should be held accountable for the conditions on their sites, people DIE on those sites, and still, nothing changes.
Toss a few of those developers in jail, and I bet we start seeing roofers with fall protection.
Oh, that won't happen, you say? Well, I don't know about any developer, but roofing contractors are sitting in jail right now because someone fell and died on their job.
The bottom line is that we are all responsible, the owners, the contractors, the developers, and yes, the workers too. It is up to all of us to make sure our roofers are going home every night; there is no roofing job worth dying for. And when someone does get killed, none of those justifications or excuses will bring them back.
Henry Staggs, RRO
Roof Consultant and Roofing Industry Advocate