NRCA Responds to The Wall Street Journal Article on Roofing Safety

The article posted below, “Fight Erupts Over Protecting Rooftop Workers,” was published in The Wall Street Journal’s Sept. 29 issue and quoted Harry Dietz, NRCA’s director of risk management. Unfortunately, it missed some important distinctions and left out important information that NRCA wishes to clarify. NRCA’s Executive Vice President wrote a letter to the editor; an excerpt follows.

  • Lots of different trades work on rooftops and under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations that are sometimes different. The “nimble” workers described in the article working from truss to truss, for example, are not roofers; they are framers, employed by homebuilders. And the worker “perched on a window ledge” was clearly not following safety practices that any responsible employer would tolerate.
  • The authors make the following unfortunate (and unsubstantiated) statement: “Contractors have long argued that measures such as training and monitoring of workers constitute appropriate fall protection.” NRCA has always taken the position that fall protection must involve more than training and monitoring. Where we differ from OSHA is that we believe fall protection can take many forms and that what OSHA calls “personal fall-arrest systems” – basically harnesses and lanyards – aren’t always effective and can create additional hazards.
  • The article suggests OSHA issued an “exemption” from any form of fall protection in residential construction. That is simply not the case. NRCA negotiated with OSHA to establish its “temporary rule” that allowed for the use of slide guards – or toeboards – as one of several acceptable methods of fall protection. OSHA no longer believes slide guards are an effective means of fall protection even though the agency has long taken the position that employers should do more of what it calls “job hazard analysis” to find appropriate safety remedies based on specific jobsite conditions. When it comes to fall protection, we agree.
  • The article suggests deaths attributable to falls in residential construction have increased during the past two years. However, the evidence in Arizona is not quite so clear: There were three deaths reported in 2011 that were related to “falls, slips or trips” in construction; four such deaths in 2012 and five in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is not clear whether any of these deaths were attributable to falls since they may have involved “slips or trips” nor is it clear they occurred on residential construction projects. And interestingly, while OSHA argues that Arizona’s rules are not as “effective” as the federal rules, Arizona has had fewer deaths and non-fatal injuries, measured on a per capita basis, than almost all states under federal OSHA’s jurisdiction.
  • Finally, it is interesting to note the incidence of falls in construction had been on a steady decline until 2011, when they began to increase. OSHA announced the new rule that effectively requires the use of personal fall-arrest systems that same year. We believe, unfortunately, those two events to be related: Many unprofessional contractors view the new rules as being unreasonable and choose to simply do nothing while OSHA doesn’t have the resources to investigate the hundreds of residential roofing projects that take place every day.

Above all, professional roofing contractors want to do everything in their power to make sure their employees return home safely every night. There is plenty of room for debate about how best to accomplish that, but sadly the article, in NRCA’s opinion, misses the point.

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