OSHA Gets Strict

The Washington, D.C.-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration has joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, in promulgating significant regulation upon the residential construction industry. On Dec. 16, 2010, OSHA announced the new Residential Fall Protection Directive (STD 03-11-002), which went into effect September 2011. This new OSHA standard replaced the interim directive (STD 03-00-001), which was effective June 18, 1999.

The interim directive was intended to be a temporary policy because of builders’ and contractors’ compliance cost concerns about using fall protection on residential jobs. The interim directive allowed residential contractors to bypass OSHA fall-protection requirements when they determined it was infeasible. However, OSHA says there continue to be high numbers of fall-related fatalities and injuries in residential construction. Therefore, the agency says infeasibility is no longer a plausible reason not to use fall protection on residential projects.

“Fatalities from falls are the No. 1 cause of workplace deaths in construction,” explained Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, when the new directive was announced. “We cannot tolerate workers getting killed in residential construction when effective means are readily available to prevent those deaths. Almost every week, we see a worker killed from falling off a residential roof. We can stop these fatalities, and we must.”

Fall-related Injuries

During 2010, eight of the top 10 OSHA violations were in the areas of fall protection (see the table, page 52). In a recent fall-protection seminar I taught, a residential contractor was surprised by the second-most-cited violation: ladders 3 feet above landing surface. The contractor said he always thought it was three rungs, not 3 feet. Others were surprised by the fifth-most-cited violation: fall hazards training program.

Unfortunately, these comments demonstrate that residential contractors have little if any experience with OSHA. Typically, OSHA standards are standard operating practice and required for work in the commercial construction industry. Many states demand OSHA certification for workers on public and commercial projects. Although residential contractors also are supposed to follow OSHA standards, there has been little OSHA enforcement in this sector.

But that has changed. OSHA uses Local and Regional Emphasis Programs to target high-risk industries. The construction industry currently is targeted for compliance in fall protection and high-risk activities. Therefore, for the next three to five years, OSHA inspectors will be focusing on residential construction jobsites. If job injuries and fatalities on residential jobs decrease, then the industry will be removed from the target list.

The New Rule in Brief

The new fall-protection directive states employers must protect their workers under 29 CFR 1926.501 (b) (13). Workers engaged in residential construction working 6 feet or more above lower levels must be protected with conventional fall-protection equipment. This includes the use of guardrail systems, safety nets and/or personal fall-arrest systems.

In addition, the employer must have a written fall-protection policy in place. Then the employer must train his or her workers about that plan and the equipment they will use, as well as document the training. In the event an employer can demonstrate using these standard methods is infeasible or poses a greater hazard, the employer may write a site-specific plan showing alternative fall-protection methods. These alternative methods must comply with the requirements of 1926.502 (k), and the site-specific plan must be present on the jobsite.

General contractors are responsible to maintain a safe worksite for all workers, including employees and subcontractors, on a project. As far as OSHA is concerned, everyone on the jobsite other than the contractor owner is a worker. For example, if you subcontract roofing, painting, siding and gutter work, you are the general contractor responsible for ensuring all workers are protected according to OSHA standards and requirements.

An OSHA Audit

Under the fall-protection directive, OSHA has instructed its officers as follows:

“Compliance Safety and Health Officers shall, while traveling during the course of their workday, be watchful for construction employees working at elevations, which upon observation, may be considered to be hazardous to the employees’ safety.”

If OSHA conducts an audit on your jobsite, the inspector will be looking for compliance with fall protection. This compliance must be shown through documentation and performance. The OSHA inspector will want to meet the competent person in charge of site safety. OSHA will be looking for harnesses, lifelines, guardrails and safety nets.

If you are the general contractor and subs are up on a roof or a ladder without protection, fines will ensue. In most cases, the subcontractor and general contractor will be fined.

To avoid sharing in the multitrade OSHA fines, consider the following:

• Hire subcontractors who can provide proof of compliance with OSHA standards and are willing to commit, in writing and practice, that they will follow them osn your jobsite.

• Require your subs to provide a copy of their safety program.

• Insist on proof that your sub has trained the crew it will put on your jobsite.

• Use a subcontract agreement documenting the safety requirements relative to your project.

• Require general liability and workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Review the subcontractor’s experience modification rating and look into previous safety history.

Then, whether you are working independently or overseeing subs, you must follow OSHA’s requirements. If you have a subcontractor’s documentation in place and the crew ignores OSHA’s requirements, an OSHA inspector will take due diligence into consideration and only may hold the sub accountable for violations.

Get Up to Speed

The majority of residential contractors are not up to speed with OSHA standards because the industry has been off the radar since OSHA was founded in 1970. Because of the increase in injuries and deaths in residential construction, OSHA will aggressively pursue noncompliant contractors. It behooves you to get your organization aligned with OSHA’s new mandates before the agency visits your next jobsite. EC


Mark Paskell is president of The Contractor Coaching Partnership Inc. He is a contractor business coach for residential contractors, builders and subcontractors. Visit his website, Thecontractorcoachingpartnership.com.