Fall protection is now OSHA’s No. 1 national priority, but a lot of roofing contractors don’t know it. REMODELING talks with remodeling business coach and safety trainer Mark Paskell, founder of The Contractor Coaching Partnership about fall protection and OSHA rules.

REMODELING: How likely is it that a roofing contractor is going to get a jobsite visit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration?

Mark Paskell: It depends on where the contractor’ [job] is. If he’s working on a main street in a heavily populated area in the Northeast, the chance would be high. This will vary region to region, since OSHA enforcement and educational efforts are predicated on where the injuries and deaths are happening. But there’s national emphasis by OSHA on fall protection. So there may not be a local program for fall hazards, but until Sept. 30, 2015, if you are any type of contractor working on heights of 6 feet or higher, you are the No. 1 priority for OSHA.

RM: How does enforcement work?

MP: Martha Kent, the regional director here in New England, states this: If you are an OSHA compliance health and safety officer — a CHSO — here are your orders. When you go by a residential or commercial jobsite and see people on higher levels, you’re required to stop, observe, and see if there are any obvious fall protection violations or hazards that would be considered an imminent danger situation. If you see that you will immediately pull over and call the OSHA office and begin an audit of that company and that job. If the office can’t send someone, you have to stop and do the initial audit.

RM: Why are residential remodeling and roofing contractors not more aware?

MP: Commercial contractors have borne the cost of compliance because OSHA always visits their sites. So there’s a total lack of knowledge about OSHA in the residential sector. Plus there’s no requirement for OSHA training in residential. A third factor is apathy. Contractors feel that if they haven’t seen OSHA on their jobsites, they don’t need to worry about it.

RM: What happens during that jobsite visit?

MP: The first thing a CHSO will do is start a file. They’ll go by the site several times and will have probably already taken several pictures. When they’re coming onto the site, they know why they’re there.

RM: What if the roofing crew is not working safely according to OSHA rules. How would that be handled?

MP: Say you have five guys on the roof and they’re not tied off. The OSHA inspector will approach the site, present I.D., and ask to speak to the person in charge. The OSHA officer will talk about what he sees that isn’t safe. He’ll focus first on items that are considered “imminent danger,” meaning where someone could get hurt or killed. The guys up there with no harnesses; he will ask them to come down. He’ll talk to people on the jobsite and walk around the site and note anything that’s not up to par for safety standards — like extension cords missing a third prong.

Next Steps

RM: Where would it go from there?

MP: A few things may happen. He may say you can’t go back up on that roof until everyone is trained on how to work with a harness and tied off. The foreman or owner might have to go out and get more equipment. Then, in conference, he’ll go over what he saw, identify what wasn’t abated, and let the foreman or owner know that he may be getting a letter from the area OSHA director. If the foreman or owner agrees to improve the jobsite safety situation, the compliance officer may say: OK, I will be back in two days to verify that it was done.

RM: Is that the end of it?

MP: Not likely. In the example of five guys on the roof with no harnesses, you’re going to end up with five or six citable offenses per employee. Maybe the ladder wasn’t set right on the roof; maybe there’s stuff all over the site that would cause people to trip and fall. Chances are that company doesn’t have a safety training program. Companies are required to have a training program, to train workers in safety, to certify that they’ve been trained, and to maintain a copy of that certification in their place of business. In any event, the area director will meet with the compliance officer to discuss the situation.

RM: How could a contractor proactively handle this situation?

MP: Call OSHA and ask to come in and have an informal hearing or conference to discuss what’s going on. This shows that you want to make sure you’re doing the things that are right for your employees. You’re still going to be cited. But there’s a good chance that the fines will be significantly reduced or forgiven altogether.

RM: What if I just wait to see what happens?

MP: You’ll get a citation with number, date, the violation, the state you’re in, and the OSHA standard you’re in violation of. You’ll have 15 working days to respond to the citation and fine. If you ignore it, that fine becomes your bill.

RM: How heavy are the fines?

MP: First time around, the fines are as much as $7,000 for violating a standard where there could be serious bodily harm or someone could even be killed. Some of this depends on whether or not the violation is willful. But if you respond within the 15 days and you go and negotiate in good faith, a lot of times they will reduce the fines by as much as 50%. By good faith I mean that you demonstrate a willingness to provide suitable training and equipment.

Wise To Comply

RM: How can contractors ensure that they’re OSHA compliant?

MP: You could get the OSHA manual or go to the OSHA website. One of the easiest ways to start is to take an OSHA 10 certification training. That’s a 10-hour course that will give you an overview of how OSHA is set up and how it works. You could also take the OSHA 30 training, which is much more in depth. Or you could have someone assess your job hazards and prioritize how you’re going to fix them so your workers aren’t exposed to unsafe conditions. Start working on written plans, create a training program. Put those in a safety manual.

RM: A lot of roofing companies use subcontractors. Who would be responsible if an OSHA visit took place and the subcontracted laborers were not complying with fall protection standards?

MP: There’s a provision called the multiple employer citation policy. Under the provision, it’s possible that even if it’s the subcontractor who is responsible for unsafe conditions, the general contractor could also be fined. You as the “prime” contractor, under the blanket general duty clause of OSHA, are required to ensure that there is a safe and sanitary workplace for all workers on the jobsite.

The way you do that is by requiring all subs to provide, besides insurance certificates, evidence of a safety program for all roofers exposed to fall hazards. Put that in the subcontractor agreement.

RM: What if the subcontractor crew ignores safety measures?

MP: Say I come there in the morning and the guys are tied off. But it’s hot and they say screw safety and they decide to wing it. I have a subcontractor agreement that states that you, the sub, are going to work safely on my jobsite and that your people are trained and certified in how to work safely on a roof. If OSHA comes by and they get nailed chances are I am not going to be cited at all. What else do you want me to do? If you have a sub who doesn’t do fall protection, I’d say: nice to know you, bye!

Safety Standard

RM: What is the OSHA safety standard for residential roofing?

MP: The contractor has a duty to provide fall protection systems, guard rails, or safety nets. Most people in the residential sector are opting for a fall protection system.

RM: What’s the difference between fall arrest and fall restraint?

MP: With fall arrest, I give you a harness, and if you fall off the edge of the roof the harness — rigged properly — will prevent you from hitting the ground. It’s anchored to an anchor point at a higher level and can withstand force of up to 5,000 pounds.

With a fall restraint system, you still have the body harness secured to an anchor point that can tolerate 3,000 pounds of stress, but it won’t allow you to fall over the edge. Fall restraint would definitely be preferred and is more popular.

RM: Once you’ve selected a system and have been trained in its use, how complicated and expensive is that to put into everyday on-site practice?

MP: In some situations it will take a little bit of time. A few minutes to assess the hazards. Not every roof situation is the same. But let me share this: I was in a company where safety was the most important thing. We set up pump staging on all our jobs over two stories and we used nets. The common problem in our industry is the perception that all this costs too much money. What I found is the opposite. We were better at producing great work in a timely manner because we weren’t worried about falling. When there are unsafe conditions, guys work slower. When the job has been properly assessed and the right equipment provided, they get the job done way faster.

RM: What do you think would have to happen for fall protection to become a standard practice on residential roofs?

MP: I think, unfortunately, given the lay of the land and the way contractors are, it’s going to come down to aggressive enforcement and publicizing. I think it would be very important to require, at a minimum, that anybody with a contractor’s license take OSHA 10 or even OSHA 30. In the commercial construction world, that’s the standard. We need to focus on an industrywide safety initiative, something the industry itself creates and adopts, not just something we do because the government is telling us to do it. —Mark Paskell is a contractor business coach who trains in OSHA compliance. He chairs the government affairs committee for NARI of eastern Massachusetts. Reach him at 508.847.0162 or mark@thecontractorcoachingpartnership.com.