Kudos to Idaho Statesman Reporter Audrey Dutton for a first-rate article about the hazards of residential construction — how many employers refuse to protect their workers and how OSHA saves lives.

Brandon Ho’Rine who died falling off the first story of a house.

Dutton’s story begins with the tragic story of Brandon Ho’Rine, who went to his first day on the job one morning, tearing shingles off a house, fell off a one story roof, suffering traumatic brain injury. His family had to unplug him a week later.

A little background. In 1992, OSHA issued its construction fall protect standard, requiring workers working more than 6 feet off the ground to use fall protection (personal fall arrest systems, guardrails, and/or safety nets.)  In 1995, however, the part applying to residential construction was suspended temporarily because of industry concerns that fall protection wasn’t feasible on residential buildings. In 2011, more than 15 years years later, OSHA finally announced that it was re-instating residential fall protection requirements, requiring everyone working more than 6 feet up — even on residential construction, to use fall protection.

The residential construction industry, as you might imaging, went berserk, accusing OSHA of creating unnecessary hardships on the roofing industry and driving small construction companies out of business. Despite withering pressure from some members of Congress, OSHA persisted in enforcing the requirement, although it delayed enforcement of the new requirements over many months.

Despite the requirement, however, Dutton reports of far too many cases where employers don’t provide fall protection, often with disabling or fatal results.

The Statesman visited some home-construction sites in January and found workers on roofs without safety gear in snowy, icy conditions. One worker stood on a second-story ledge and leaned out over empty space to use a nail gun, while his coworker swept snow off the edge of the roof. Neither was tied to an anchor as required by law.

Some employers, Dutton reports, try to get around the rules by misclassifying their employees as “independent contractors,” essentially small business owners, which would exempt the employers from having to ensure their workers’ safety.

But Dutton also highlights employers who appreciate the value of OSHA standards and OSHA enforcement. Adam Roe, who owns a painting company was skeptical of OSHA standards until his brother got hurt, his workers suffered several incidents and his workers comp premiums started rising.

Growing up in the business, he learned to think of OSHA as “the big bad wolf,” he said. “They were going to come devour you, and give you a hefty fine, and run you out of business.”

But the company’s vice president and administrative manager — his wife, Risa Roe — began to research safety and OSHA standards to put together the safety handbooks that commercial contractors wanted to see from subcontractors like Adam Roe Painting.

“What we found is they’re not the big bad wolf,” Adam Roe said. “They want to be your ally.”

Risa Roe made safety her personal mission. She got involved with the Safety Fest conference, a multiday series of classes on everything from fire extinguishers and first aid to asbestos and scaffolding. Now the company sends its workers to at least one class at Safety Fest every year, on top of regular on-the-job training.

Making those changes wasn’t free. Buying safety equipment for every employee and paying for them to attend hours of training on the clock can be expensive. (Harnesses and full safety kits run about $50 to $300.) But the investment pays for itself, the Roes said.

Roe even worked with residential builders to add permanent anchor, or “D ring,” on every new roof in order “to give painters, roofers and siding workers something to hook into during construction. And it would stay there for anyone who needs to repair shingles, hang Christmas lights or install a satellite dish.”

The Statesman also discusses other residential construction hazards like deadly trench collapses and silica exposure.

Finally, OSHA’s Boise Area Office Director David Kearns also discusses what homeowners should do to make sure that the contractors they hire do the work safely.

Read the article. Bookmark it and print out a few copies. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about “Do it yourself safety and health” — confronting construction employers when you see their employees in hazardous situations.

Next time you see something like that, hand them a copy of this article.

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