Before Dec. 15, conduct an on-site compliance check. Confirm that workers elevated 6 feet or more above the lower level of a structure have OSHA-acceptable forms of fall protection.
(This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.)
On Dec. 15, OSHA’s new fall protection regulations for the U.S. residential construction industry will take effect. Before then, it’s a contractor’s responsibility to master the conditions stipulated by the new laws and, in turn, equip its workers with the knowledge, training, and equipment they need to be both safe and compliant.
The question is, are you prepared? Do you know what OSHA’s new directive specifically requires for residential construction workers and, most importantly, what needs to be done for compliance with the regulations?
A time for change
More than 15 years ago, OSHA issued the Interim Fall Protection Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction (STD 03-00-001), which permitted employers engaged in certain residential construction projects to use specified alternative methods of fall protection.
These methods, such as slide guards or safety monitor systems, could be used in place of conventional fall protection methods (guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems) required by the residential fall protection standard (29 CFR 1926.501(b)(13)). Employers did not have to prove the use of conventional fall protection was infeasible or more hazardous, nor did they need to provide a written fall protection plan.
Today, falls remain the leading cause of death for workers engaged in residential construction, with an average of 40 workers suffering a fatal fall from a residential structure each year.
These types of at-height worker injury and fatality statistics prompted OSHA to rescind the original interim instruction and invoke stricter safety regulations. OSHA’s issuance of the new instruction (1926.501) is a progressive, life-saving change for the residential construction industry, especially those working at height.
Follow OSHA’s three simple steps to preventing falls — plan, provide, and train — and your workers will not only be in compliance with the regulations, but also safe.
Step One: Plan
As your company adapts to meet OSHA’s new regulations, knowledge will be your most impactful tool. Start by educating yourself. If you have a firm grasp on the specifics of the new standards, ensuring your workers are in compliance will be a painless process.
First, is your crew included? OSHA’s new directive applies to all residential construction employers and employees to ensure job site safety. Under this directive, construction work is construed as “residential construction” if the structure being built will function as a home or dwelling and if it uses traditional wood-frame materials and methods.
According to OSHA, cold-formed metal studs and masonry brick or block are categorized under traditional wood frame materials and methods. It’s also worth noting the limited use of steel I-beams to help support wood framing does not exclude a structure from the residential construction sector.
If your residential construction project involves roofing or working in attics, for example, the details of the new requirements apply to you. Still unsure? Visit www.osha.gov to verify that your crew must comply.
As for the new requirements, here’s what will be required of residential construction workers:
- All employees working 6 feet or more above lower levels must use fall protection equipment.
- Acceptable forms of fall protection equipment include: guardrails, safety nets, and personal fall arrest systems (may consist of full-body harnesses, deceleration devices, lanyards, and anchor points).
- Specific types of work may implement other fall protection measures to the extent allowed under other provisions of 29 CFR 1926.501(b). For example, warning lines and safety monitor systems are permitted during low-slope roof work.
- An effective fall restraint system, rigged to prevent a worker from encountering a fall hazard and falling over the edge, may be used instead of a personal fall arrest system.
- An acceptable fall restraint system may consist of a full body harness or body belt that is connected to an anchor point at the center of the roof by a lanyard; this lanyard should be of adequate length in order to restrict a worker from physically reaching the edge of the roof.
- If the employer determines the use of conventional fall protection methods to be infeasible or more hazardous, a qualified person must provide an explanation in the form of a written, site-specific fall protection plan (in compliance with 29 CFR 1926.502(k)) that details reasons why the conventional fall protection systems are infeasible or pose a greater hazard.
Step Two: Provide
Are your equipment and training up to date with new OSHA regulations? If the answer is no or you are unsure, there is still time to invest in the right equipment and training.
Before Dec. 15, conduct an on-site compliance check. Confirm that workers elevated 6 feet or more above the lower level of a structure have OSHA-acceptable forms of fall protection, which may include guardrails, safety nets, and active fall arrest systems. Make sure workers are using the proper fall protection equipment for the specific construction site, keeping in mind that the variance of different job sites and projects might require different equipment. Then ensure that all workers are using their fall protection equipment correctly and are comfortable using the products.
If you already have the right equipment that is current with OSHA’s new regulations, consider its quality. The fall protection products you employ should balance superior comfort with optimal performance. By supplying your workers with lightweight, durable equipment that can be easily worn for the duration of the work day, they will be more likely to want to wear it and will perform at their best. Because today’s fall protection products are more comfortable and user-friendly than ever, ensuring worker’s compliance and safety is easily achievable.
Step Three: Train
Investing in the right fall protection equipment is a crucial step toward compliance, but your responsibilities do not end there. Even the right safety equipment is ineffective if used incorrectly, which is why training programs are a must. All employees will benefit from some form of instruction, so arrange time for them to undergo fall protection training before they begin work on the job site. Hands-on learning seminars, for example, are highly effective because they mimic actual work conditions.
If you’re concerned that your workers are unaccustomed to the safety equipment, implementing a hands-on training program will offer clarification and allow them to see firsthand what needs to be inspected before use. Most major fall protection manufacturers offer training courses to help teach residential construction workers how to use equipment correctly and in compliance with the new regulations, which lessens the stress on you and promotes safety.
The Costs of Non-compliance
After Dec. 15, non-compliant employers without an approved alternative plan will be cited. These citations can vary from substantial fines to work delays at job sites.
As costly as the citations can be, a fall can be even more financially damaging. Worker falls represent an enormous cost to construction businesses. These falls cause millions of dollars in losses annually in the form of lost work, increased insurance premiums, and liability claims. And then there are the incidental costs of a fall: Falls affect the morale of the workers, decrease productivity, and hurt the reputation of a business. In fact, a poor track record with fall prevention and rescue response can be a deciding factor in job bids.
To avoid penalties, construction delays, and injuries, remember that workers’ well-being is a top priority and that complying with the new regulations enables your business to succeed.
When workers understand fall protection equipment is not an option, but a necessity to help ensure their safety, they are more likely to buy into the program. It’s imperative you communicate to your workers about the importance of fall protection. Stress that the use of proper fall protection systems is non-negotiable. Help your workers realize that safety equipment is implemented for their benefit, to prevent or mitigate potentially devastating injuries in the workplace. Additionally, stay current with the facts and information OSHA provides in regard to the residential construction industry and keep your workers abreast of any changes.
The overall purpose of implementing up-to-date fall protection equipment is twofold: It satisfies the requirements of OSHA’s new regulations and, most importantly, it saves lives. You can’t predict when accidents will happen, but you can help to prevent them or mitigate the results with the help of the proper safety equipment.
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.