New Fall Protection Rules

Fall1Cinch up your britches, boys and girls, OSHA’s new fall protection rules take effect Dec. 15.

In a nutshell, the new rules stipulate that for residential roofs sloped 4 on 12 or greater, contractors must use “acceptable” fall protection equipment such as guardrails, safety nets or fall arrests systems with body harnesses and deceleration devices. Failure to comply could lead to fines as great as $7,000 per worker.

Cue the predictable outrage…as some are already doing.

Sorry, but I can’t think of a better rule OSHA has come up with in a long time. Falls are the leading cause of death in all construction trades and applications, with more than 40 workers killed by falls every year. And construction is second only to logging in fatalities, hardly a statistic that makes mommies and daddies want to send their kids to trade school, is it?

From the reports I’m reading the traditional slide guard brackets used for 2-by footholds on roofs in the past will no longer be considered “acceptable.” That’s a good call. If you’re tumbling down a roof these won’t do much other than maybe make you a little more airborne. Their real purpose is only to prevent you from having to stand on a sloping surface all day.

Nets and guardrails look complicated, cumbersome and expensive to me. But I think the harnesses are a great idea. If you’ve ever rappelled or done any rock or mountain climbing, they’re basically the same thing. Tether yourself to the top, don’t let too much slack into your line and you should be fine.

The added gear and safety lines, I’ll admit, would be a bit cumbersome. Using a harness, you might have to develop a different set of techniques, particularly for decking rafters and rolling out the tar paper. But these are mere process problems and easily solved by any thinking tradesperson. Shingling shouldn’t be any problem, since it moves so much slower.

Only 25 states subscribe to federal OSHA laws, and some states already have their own fall-protection guidelines. The National Roofing Contractors of America has a state-specific fall protection compliance program with an instructional DVD to help educate your workers and supervisors.

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