A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted a long standing issue in construction workplace safety circles. The protection of residential contractors – roofing contractors in particular – from falls on the job. While the problem has been relatively quiet in recent years, it is starting to gain more attention as an increase in injuries and deaths from falls correlates with a rise in the new construction housing market.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has a plethora of regulations governing fall protection. They include the use of safety harnesses, nets, and guard rails in various different ways depending on the circumstances of the project and the height at which workers are working. In an apparent acknowledgment that compliance with these safety protocols can be expensive, the fall protection rules were relaxed by OSHA for a long period of time while the housing industry struggled. OSHA has started to focus on the issue in the residential construction industry again because of the increased number of incidents. According to the article, the tension over the issue article is particularly acute in the Southwestern United States.
The debate centers on age old disagreements. Companies and workers who favor avoiding the use of such safety mechanisms complain that compliance is too expensive and that it makes working on a roof more cumbersome. In short, they claim, it creates more problems than it solves. Those who support the safety requirements effectively opine that the cost of making sure workers are safe can’t really be too high.
At the end of the day, there should be a balance between making sure workers are safe and imposing rules that are so cumbersome that they make the very work being performed too difficult to complete. A day when the crew goes home to their family is a good one; and businesses that keep people safe generally perform better because their experienced workers report back the next morning for work. As with many other things in construction though, critical thinking is required. Safety equipment should not make performing the project work less safe and efforts should be undertaken to make sure that safety protocols do not grossly impact the bottom line. A one size fits all safety policy is not appropriate one way or the other. Judgment is required by those involved to determine what needs to be done to protect the workers on site in a safe and efficient manner.