Safety negligence in the residential roofing industry is pitting the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration against local contractors in some states, The Wall Street Journal reported Sept. 28.
There have been a growing number of fatal falls in residential construction in recent years, prompting the federal government to require safety measures even for workers on one- and two-story structures.
But some local contractors — and even officials — are refusing to comply with the new standards.
Just last month, OSHA made an unprecedented move by proposing it be allowed to directly oversee construction safety in Arizona, since the state’s safety standards are lower than the federal requirements.
OSHA has long required most contractors to provide safety harnesses, netting or guard rails for construction workers doing projects six feet above the ground or higher. But though these standards have been in place since the 1990s, residential contractors were exempted — a move that was described as “temporary,” though it has lasted until recent times.
Contractors have argued that such measures can cause problems of their own, such as tangled harnesses. Furthermore, they say, jobs will take longer and be more expensive, with the extra expense passed along to homeowners.
These contractors maintain that appropriate training and monitoring are sufficient to keep workers safe.
A Risky Business
Falls, however, remain a leading cause of injury and death in the industry. According to a recent study published in theAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine, falls account for 50% of overall residential construction fatalities and 80% of residential roofing deaths.
Last year, there were 190 workplace fatalities in the residential construction industry. This is an increase of 23% from 2011; on-the-job deaths in commercial and industrial construction rose by only about 4% in that same period of time.
Residential contractors are more likely than commercial contractors to die in falls despite working at lower heights. The same report attributes this fact to the nature of the residential industry, largely composed of small, often less organized businesses that are under pressure to work extremely quickly. This sometimes leads to residential contracting companies providing fewer safety protections than their commercial counterparts.
Roofers, it should be noted, have the highest fatality rates among residential construction workers. Deaths rose from 34.1 per 100,000 in 2011 to 38.7 per 100,000 in 2013.
Fall Safety A Top Violation
Only two weeks ago at the National Safety Council Congress and Expo, OSHA released its preliminary top 10 list of the most frequently cited workplace safety violations for fiscal year 2014. Fall protection was the most commonly ignored, with 6,143 citations through Aug. 11.
The top four were rounded out by hazard communication (5,161 citations), scaffolding (4,029 citations) and respiratory protection (3,223 citations).These top four, with fall protection at the top of the list, have remained the same for the past three years.
The final report for 2014 will be published in December.