My back hurts. The doc says it’s osteoarthritis, a common type sometimes called “wear-and-tear” arthritis. Causes vary. At the top of the list is age, my back reminding me that I’m not getting any younger. (Thank you, but I knew that. You can stop hurting now.)

Another possible cause, according to, is “certain occupations” that create “repetitive stress.” Stacking a load of drywall, for example, or bending over all day framing walls.

Another cause is “joint injury.” My pain is in my lumbar region (L4-L5, if you must know), and I don’t really need the Mayo Clinic to tell me why. I remember exactly how it happened.

It was 1978 and I was working alone, finishing up a reroofing job. I was standing two rungs below the eaves, about 8 feet above the sidewalk on which the extension ladder rested. Straining to see the valley flashing on one of the dormers, I took one more step up and … bang, I was on the ground looking up at the sky.

I was lucky. The ladder had slipped and kicked completely out, sending me falling backward. Fortunately, as the ladder skittered down the clapboards, it broke through a window and stopped at about a 45-degree angle. I landed first on the ladder, which broke my fall in half, then dropped the final four feet or so onto the ground. More specifically, I landed on the corner of the slab.

“Ouch” doesn’t begin to do justice to the pain I felt on the left side of the small of my back. It quite literally took my breath away. It was 15 minutes — or was it an hour? — before I was able to move enough to even think about trying to get up.

Odds Are

By now you’ve heard that OSHA  and the EPA are targeting residential contractors and are cooperating and making referrals to each other based on what they find in their separate inspections. That means an OSHA violation could lead to an RRP (Renovation, Repair and Painting rule) investigation and vice versa. That’s a good reason to comply, but there are better ones: your health and safety and that of your crew.

Concern about lead in remodeling dates to at least the late 1980s, and OSHA was established in 1971. Then as now, the recommended practices aim at protecting workers as well as homeowners. Dust protection isn’t just for clients, who are exposed once; it’s important for the crew doing the work, who are exposed again and again. The same with fall protection, blade guards, scaffold railings, and all the rest.

Odds are that someone reading this is going to get injured on the jobsite, and I mean seriously injured. An even larger number will pull or strain something, shake it off, and keep going.

In 1978, I was lucky and a little stupid, and I shook it off. Older and wiser now, I’m reminded every day of my luck and my stupidity by an ache in the small of my back.

—Sal Alfano, editorial director, REMODELING.