On April 11, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, Region 5, cited Chicago roofer Woodridge Enterprises for eight violations of lack of protection from falls at two jobsites, with proposed fines totaling $47,960. The violations resulted from an OSHA visit to company jobsites on Jan. 16.

Serial Offenders

Woodridge is a repeat offender when it comes to violating OSHA fall protection rules, which require safety training (and proof via certification) and equipment on roofing jobs 6 feet or more off the ground or the next level of a building. The agency cited Woodridge in June 2012, Feb. 2010, and March 2009 at sites in Hinsdale, Carol Stream, and Elmhurst, Ill. Multiple citations place the company in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which focuses on “recalcitrant employers” and mandates follow-up inspections.

With fall safety now a priority concern for the agency that monitors the health and safety of the American workplace, residential roofing companies in some areas are starting to see more visits. Initial visits may result in a warning, or reduced fines. Repeat violations invite regular monitoring by the agency via SVEP. What OSHA wants and expects from roofing contractors are safeguards and training.

To avoid being cited, roofers should:

• Develop a written fall protection program describing safety practices and equipment used.

• Use guard rails, fall arrest or restraint systems or safety nets when working 6 feet or more off the ground or the next level surface of a building.

• Document that workers were trained in safety practices.

Roofers Now the Target

There were 774 fatalities in construction in 2010. Falls — 264 — were the leading cause of death. A study recently issued by the Journal of Safety Research shows “a disproportionately high percentage (67%) of deaths from roof falls occurred in small construction establishments,” i.e., those with between one and 10 employees. The study found that residential sites produced comparatively more fatalities than commercial sites and that older (44+) workers, younger (less than 20) workers, and Hispanic and immigrant workers died at higher rates from falls.

The study’s conclusion: “Prevention strategies should target higher-risk work groups and small establishments.” That idea is shared by the National Roofing Contractors Association, whose vice president, Bill Good, says OSHA tends to “put their resources into going after larger contractors who are more visible. We argue that the risk is with the smaller companies.”

The problem for the agency is finding those companies. Commercial roofing jobs last longer, cost more, and deploy more workers. Residential roofing jobs “only last a day or two,” Good points out. So OSHA visits are prompted either when someone reports a violation or when a compliance officer happens to come across a jobsite.

Ignore the Rules

With compliance activity stepping up, Massachusetts contractor consultant Mark Paskell says he is mystified that more contractors don’t get trained in OSHA compliance. A few years back, when Paskell was conducting RRP (Renovation, Repair and Painting) rule certification classes, contractors were “lining up at the door” to get certified.

Since OSHA issued rewritten rules for fall protection on residential construction sites in December of 2010, there’s been no such rush. That doesn’t change the fact, Paskell points out, that roofing companies are required to have a training program, equipment, and a plan for every job. “A lot of contractors aren’t taking this seriously or, if they are, they’re ignoring it,” he says.

OSHA Online Database

Not only has OSHA made fall prevention a priority, it has also built and maintains a searchable online database of offenders. The database contains state-by-state information based on nearly 60,000 roofing inspections. Using that tool, a contractor or a homeowner can find out the date and specific nature of a citation as well as its current disposition.

“So if I’m a general contractor, I can go to this list and see if a sub is being cited by OSHA,” Paskell says. “And if he is, I don’t want to hire him and have him cause a risk on my jobsite.”

Breaking Down the Cost

Scott Siegal, owner of Maggio Roofing, in Takoma Park, Md., estimates it costs his $4.5 million roofing company about $165, 800 annually (3.7% of revenue) to maintain its roof safety program. Here’s roughly how those costs — at an average of $50 an hour per field employee (wages plus labor burden) — break down: Time: Weekly 20-minute “Toolbox Talks” on safety best practices for 25 employees amounts to 8 hours. 8 x $50 = $400 per week. Annual cost: $20,800.

Inspections: Salary for a full-time superintendant inspecting every job: $45,000.

Setup: It takes a minimum of one hour to set up at each jobsite. 1 hour x 400 jobs = 400 hours, with an average of five crew members per job = 2,000 hours x $50 per hour = $100,000 per year.

Siegal says that a smaller company than his would have somewhat reduced costs for creating a safety system that fully complies with OSHA mandates but that the cost as a percentage of revenue would be higher.

—Jim Cory is a contributing editor toREMODELINGwho is based in Philadephia.