The old way of doing things isn’t always the wrong way as far as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is concerned. Beginning June 16, 2011 OSHA is repealing the interim fall protection guidelines that have been in place since 1995. They will be back to the old guideline, requiring builders to provide conventional fall-protection systems for workers engaged in any residential construction activities where a worker is six feet or more above ground level.
Falls are the leading cause of death and injury among construction workers. Statistics show that fatalities from falls are alarmingly high for residential construction activities. This evidence, along with studies conducted by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and OSHA showed that conventional fall protection can be used safely for almost all residential construction. These studies led OSHA to repeal the interim guidelines that allowed builders to use alternative fall protection measures without having to provide proof that the conventional fall protection systems weren’t feasible for the project.
So what does a builder do to comply with the new guideline?
- Workers that are 6 feet or more above lower levels must be protected by conventional fall protection methods, such as guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.
- Employers may utilize alternative fall protection measures, such as warning lines and safety monitoring systems, during work on low sloped roofs (4 in 12 pitch or less) which are 50 feet or less in width.
- Employers must ensure that every worker who might be exposed to fall hazards has been trained to recognize the hazards of falling, and the procedures to prevent it.
- OSHA does allow fall restraint systems instead of fall arrest systems. A fall restraining system must be rigged to prevent a worker from reaching a fall hazard and falling over the edge. It may consist of a full body harness or belt connected to a the center of a roof by a lanyard that prevents the worker from reaching the edge.
OSHA allows a “Fall Protection Plan” in lieu of following conventional fall protection measures. However, it is important to note that an employer cannot create such a plan without first showing that it is infeasible, or creates a greater hazard, to use a conventional system. If an employer intends to use an alternative to conventional fall protection systems, it must appoint a qualified person to develop a written site-specific (meaning one plan doesn’t fit all jobs) Fall Protection Plan. The Plan must explain why conventional methods can’t be used and list the workers who are trained and authorized to use it.
OSHA takes fall protection very seriously, and so should builders. Expect that OSHA will be aggressively enforcing this directive. The average fine for violating the fall protection guidelines is over $1,000 per violation; it’s one that builders can’t afford to ignore.
It is common in residential construction for roofing work to be subcontracted. General contractors should not assume that they escape liability simply because they hire a subcontractor. Builders who use subcontractors can still be held responsible for ensuring that those subcontractors are following guidelines under rules of agency and assumed liability.
So what should builders do? Most importantly, they should get familiar with the safety standards of these guidelines and conduct site visits to make sure that crews are complying with them. Next, make sure that all subcontractors have signed a written contracts that includes clauses requiring compliance with governmental regulations and general contractor indemnification. A well-drafted subcontractor agreement can help offset any liabilities from a subcontractor’s noncompliance.
With OSHA on the hunt, it’s more important than ever to make everyone understands the new rules, and that builders properly protect themselves from having to pay for the subcontractors that don’t.