WTF?! Friday Fall Protection Edition

There’s an old saying, I’m pretty sure from Confucius: “Take heed. It is always a bad idea to do an unsafe, illegal roofing job next door to an ex-OSHA official.”

Fall Protection
The view out of my kitchen window

And yet, what do we have here?  Right outside my kitchen window.

So, I called my neighbors at work, figuring they could talk to the contractor, which they did, and by the next morning, everyone was wearing fall protection (at least when I checked.)

But, here we are the following morning, two guys two stories up with no fall protection. I go talk to the supervisor who says “Oh yes, we have fall protection,” and points to the box of harnesses. I pointed out that the point of fall protection is to actually USE it. Which he agreed to immediately, and the two guys climbed down and haven’t been back up again.  Will they actually tie off properly? Will they keep using it when I’m not looking? Who knows?

A few things here.

  1. Falling is dangerous.Even off of residential homes.  Workers often die or are severely injured from falls from elevations much lower than the roof next door. Especially from two stories up. You may recall an Idaho Statesman article a while back about the dangers of residential construction. Not using fall protection is also illegal. OSHA has standards (and helpful guidance.)
  2. This probably isn’t an isolated problem, unique to my neighborhood.  I’ve written before about “do it yourself” health and safety.  I’m sure there are lots of illegal, unsafe roofing jobs and trenching jobs all over this county right now, which people can walk by and see, and do something about, if they recognized the problem and knew what to do.
  3. And then there’s also the question “Why me?” Why am I doing this? (aside from the obvious reasons.) Or more precisely, why not OSHA? The answer, of course, is that OSHA is terribly underfunded and understaffed and can’t possibly get to any more than a small number of workplaces every year, especially small residential jobs like this that gets no drive-by traffic. (The AFL-CIO estimates that if OSHA were to visit every workplace in the country just once, it would take over 150 years.) State plans, like Maryland, where I live,  are even more poorly funded than federal OSHA.One would think that keeping workers alive and safe would be a problem that Congress (and the President?!) would be concerned about. But instead, Republicans in the House of Representatives are proposing to cut OSHA’s enforcement budget, and increase their compliance assistance budget, based on the theory that what employers really need is not confrontation and citations, but just advice, training and compliance assistance. Well, clearly the guys next door don’t need any advice or training. They know very well what they are supposed to be doing (as evidenced by the box full of harnesses and the guilty looks when I “reminded” them.)

So what now? I’ll called the number on the sign out front and left an angry message with the company owner. I’ll keep an eye on the job and, then, if necessary, call Maryland OSHA. Of course, by that time they’ll be finished, and gone, off to some other neighborhood where they’ll undoubtedly put the harnesses back in the boxes, betting with pretty good odds that they won’t run into any neighborhood busy-bodies. And of course, betting against their workers lives, that gravity won’t step in to do its deadly deed.

Budget Fall Prevention OSHA

1 Comment

  1. So true. We had a roofing contractor working on our house last week. I sent them an email before the work started asking what kind of fall prevention (I prefer fall prevention to fall protection) they would use. No reply. It’s a “respectable” contractor that I know from commercial projects. Since I was not home when they replaced the roof, I cannot say whether they had a system in place or not. My educated guess is – not, because otherwise they would have replied to my email. Why do people take risks like that? Time, money, complacency, attitude, habits? To change a habit it takes an incredible effort and hard work. Isn’t it about 90% or so of what we do that is driven by habits/automated behavior? To change the behavior you have to consciously understand what is the cue or the trigger and what is the result or reward. THEN you can (try to) change your behavior. I am digressing. I think that we will see many more falls in residential construction until “they get it”. It’s frustrating.

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