Hazard Communication for Roofers

To follow the OSHA Haz-Com standard, an employer must develop a written Hazard Communication plan.

To follow the OSHA Haz-Com standard, an employer must develop a written Hazard Communication plan.

According to Paracelsus, the 16th century physician and scientist: “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”

If you wash your windows in your house or car once in a while, the glass cleaner is not subject to the Washington, D.C.-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Hazard Communication standard, which essentially ensures that information concerning the classified hazards of chemicals is transmitted. However, professional window washers use glass cleaners eight hours per day, five days a week, by the gallons and in stronger concentrations. For these people, OSHA’s Haz-Com standard comes into play and the window washer’s employer is expected to have a written Hazard Communication plan—a list of all hazardous chemicals onsite, Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and the proper container labeling.

In the roofing industry, synthetic roofing materials, asphalt roof shingles, adhesives and treated wood shingles all contain hazardous chemicals. In addition, items roofers use every day, like lubricants, hand-cleaning products, sealants, thinners, coatings, gasoline and diesel fuels, and even fire extinguishers, are subject to the HazCom standard.

In OSHA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards, Haz-Com is almost always No. 2, second only to Fall Protection. Out of 398 inspections in the construction/roofing industry in 2015, OSHA issued 768 citations and collected $443,317 in fines for HazCom. Unfortunately, this number is so high because many companies, who otherwise have an excellent safety record, do not understand or completely disregard the Haz-Com standard.

If OSHA comes onto a company’s site to do an inspection for an accident, a complaint, or a visible infraction, an OSHA insprector may ask to see the Haz-Com plan and the SDSs. To follow the OSHA Haz-Com standard, an employer must develop a written Hazard Communication plan, determine what products onsite may be potentially hazardous, provide a list of all the hazardous or potentially hazardous substances onsite, and locate SDSs for all these products. These SDSs must be immediately available for all employees on the worksite during work hours.

These chemicals must also be properly identified and labeled. Here’s what you need to know:

Safety Data Sheets

SDSs are information sheets for one specific product and have 16 standardized sections. The employer is responsible for having the SDSs onsite.

Labeling

Container labels must be clearly visible, legible and in English. If employees speak a language other than English, that language can be on the labels and SDSs, as well. There are six elements to Haz-Com labeling:

  • The product identifier appears at the top of a container. This is usually the name or code number to the product.
  • Pictograms are a black picture on a white diamond background with a red outline.
  • Pictograms are designed to be easily identifiable to non-native readers. They also make labels more identifiable.
  • The labeling format also includes one of two signal words: “Warning” or “Danger”.
  • Beneath the signal words, there are Hazard Statements and Precautionary statements. The Hazard Statement tells users how the chemical can be a hazard. The precautionary statement tells users how to protect themselves from the chemical.
  • Usually, on the bottom of a label, contact information for the manufacturer, importer and supplier is included.

Training

Training is also important to maintain the Haz-Com standard. Employees must be trained on the types of hazardous materials onsite, the location of the hazardous chemicals onsite, the locations of the Haz-Com plan and the locations of SDSs onsite. Employees must also be trained how to read the labels and SDSs.

Learn More

To learn more about Haz-Com and the toxic substances in roofing, visit the following websites:

Photo: OSHA

How to Deal With Winter Downtime

You worked hard all summer and made a lot of money. But now summer is over and winter is quickly approaching. With winter comes downtime.

When you’re young, temporary lay-offs can be fun: Parties, travel, music and sporting events make layoffs easier to handle. When you’re older, with bills to pay and mouths to feed, layoffs can be very worrisome. There are a few basic steps you can take to help deal with temporary layoffs.

If you’ve been laid off, you should file for unemployment insurance as soon as possible. The sooner you file, the sooner you can be deemed eligible and the sooner you can start receiving funds. The unemployment agency will verify with your employer the reason for you losing your job.

If you are not happy in the roofing industry you might be interested in retraining, not only to learn new job skills but also to keep your mind sharp. Consider the following:

  • Take some community college courses. Community colleges are relatively inexpensive and offer a wide variety of courses to improve work skills while earning valuable college credits that may lead to a possible degree.
  • Visit your local unemployment office. It will have lists of apprenticeship and training opportunities that can lead to a more secure position.
  • Select courses at a location vocational/technical school. These schools offer a wide variety of hands-on training at reasonable costs.
  • Purchase books or software to use on your own. There are many free and reasonably priced online training and education classes available.

See “Training Resources” below for some additional ideas.

If you love roofing and want to remain in the trade, there are steps you can take to keep your head above water—financially speaking.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D., writes in “7 Ways to Cope with a Layoff” that you need to take a realistic look at your finances and budget. Do not put this off longer than a week after you are laid off. Although we may not enjoy dealing with our finances, failure to do so could result in a far worse situation down the road (which always arrives sooner than you think). Dr. Grohol suggests: “Be creative in analyzing your budget for places to cut.” Most of us assume we need things like digital television and unlimited mobile calling plans. But most of us don’t. He adds, “Now’s the time to put aside your wants temporarily and focus exclusively on your and your family’s needs.”

Your savings, rainy-day fund and even your 401(k) may offer you some temporary financial relief. Borrowing from your 401(k), for instance, is usually less expensive than adding to your credit-card debt because you are paying back the loan with interest to yourself (not a credit card company). However, borrowing from your 401(k) and other retirement accounts is usually recommended only as a last resort.

Take care of your insurance. We often don’t think about insurance until we’re faced with a layoff and find out just how expensive insurance really is. Your employer will likely offer you COBRA, which allows you to continue your employer’s health benefits with one catch: You now have to pay what your employer was paying for your benefits. Be prepared for sticker shock. Most people are amazed that a family of four’s health insurance on COBRA might be as high as $1,000 or even $1,500 a month; for a single person or couple, it can be anywhere from $500 to $800 per month. When paying bills is already going to be a challenge, COBRA might be out of reach.

Shop around. With the Affordable Care Act, there are a lot more health-insurance plans available at a wide range of costs. You may find other health insurance coverage for your family that is less expensive and won’t cut your benefits in any significant way. Weigh the costs with what you can afford. For example, you may have to pay a higher deductible for inpatient hospital stays to achieve a lower monthly premium.

If you want or need to keep working, hit the classifieds. Nearly all classified sections now are online, so searching through them is far easier than it was 10 years ago. Although it might seem like nobody is hiring (and in the construction profession, that may very well be true), you should keep an eye out anyway. Jobs sometimes become available as people retire or a company’s focus changes. Extend your search somewhat outside your trade, as well, just to see what else might be available. Check out your “dream job”, too. Some people use a layoff as an opening for a new opportunity.

Use the unemployment resources available to you, whether through your ex-employer or through your local government. Libraries, too, often offer a great set of employment and career resources (such as résumé writing services). Don’t be afraid to network. Make your situation known, build connections and, soon, unemployment will be a thing of the past!

Training Resources

The following are examples of free or low-cost training opportunities you may want to consider when you are laid off:
Free
College courses from American Standard University
Solar training in New Jersey from Information & Technology Management
Your state may offer free training, like New York

Low Cost
Penn Foster Career School

More Ideas
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration provides information and services to assist workers who have been or will be laid off.

Search for apprenticeships and youth education/training programs, like one in New York.

Interested in the safety profession? Check out Free-Training.com/osha/soshamenu.htm and Free-Training.com.

Suicide in the Roofing Industry

A recent study released by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted suicide rates in 2012 by occupational group. According to the study, workers in construction and extraction have 53.3 suicides per 100,000, second only to workers in farming, fishing and forestry (84.5 per 100,000). As such, it is an industry imperative to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health and create caring cultures within our companies.

The CDC’s study found that of about 12,300 suicides in the 17 states studied, 1,324 people worked in construction and extraction (10.8 percent) and 1,049 (8.5 percent) worked in management, a category that includes top executives and other management positions.

The CDC tells us there is no single cause. However, several factors can increase a person’s risk for attempting or dying by suicide. On the other hand, having these risk factors does not always mean that suicide will occur. Risk factors include the following:

  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • History of depression or other mental illness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Family history of suicide or violence
  • Physical illness
  • Feeling alone

Suicide affects everyone, but some groups are at higher risk than others. Men are about four times more likely than women to die from suicide. However, women are more likely to express suicidal thoughts and make nonfatal attempts than men. The prevalence of suicidal thoughts, suicide planning and attempts is significantly higher among young adults aged 18 to 29 years than adults aged more than 30 years. American Indians and Alaska Natives, rural populations, and active or retired military personnel also have higher rates of suicide.

In the construction industry, including roofing, there are several factors that make the possibility of attempting suicide more prevalent. The roofing business is seasonal. We work from April to October and get laid off for several months during the winter. Conversely, during the warm months, long com- mutes and even longer workdays in hot weather, compounded by close bids, tight schedules and stringent quality-control measures increase the stress levels of roofers immensely. Depression can set in during these months.

In addition, in construction, we consider ourselves “tough guys”. We believe it is not “manly” to seek help or go to a doctor for medication, despite the fact that some of us will drink alcohol and take illegal drugs to get high. Drug use and addiction are also some of the main causes of the depression that leads to suicide attempts. Unfortunately, men in general are not very likely to ask for help or discuss personal issues. Men may also have easier access to firearms. The CDC says that men are 56.9 percent more likely to use firearms to kill themselves.

To help identify those who may be prone to attempting suicide, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, New York, has developed a list of risk factors. These risk factors are broken down into several warning signs. Consider the following:

  • Changes in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors: This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss or change.
  • Changes in what a person says or does: If a person talks about being a burden to others, feels trapped, experiences unbearable pain, has no reason to live and/or blatantly discusses killing himself/herself, he or she may be having suicidal thoughts.
  • Increases use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Looks for a way to kill himself/herself, such as searching online for materials or means.
  • Acts recklessly.
  • Withdraws from activities.
  • Isolates from family and friends.
  • Sleeps too much or too little.
  • Visits or calls people to say goodbye.
  • Gives away prized possessions.
  • Is aggressive.
  • Experiences changes in mood: depression, loss of interest, rage, irritability, humiliation and anxiety.

No matter what problems a person is dealing with, the volunteers at the Suicide Prevention Hotline want to help those in distress to find a reason to keep living. By calling (800) 273-TALK (8255), a person will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in his/her area, any time. The call is confidential and free.

If you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline. People have called for help with many troubles, including substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, sexual orientation, abuse, depression, mental and physical illnesses, and loneliness.

LEARN MORE

Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention
Understanding Suicide Fact Sheet
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
National Suicide Prevention Hotline

The High Roofer: Recognize Whether Drug Abuse Is Occurring in Your Workplace

Drug abuse in the workplace is a great threat to the health and safety of American
workers, and roofers are no exception. Roofers have the fifth-highest work-related death rate in construction—about twice the average for all construction (about 50 roofers are killed on the job each year, most by falls). According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the construction industry, including the roofing trade, has the second highest level of alcohol abuse and sixth highest level of drug abuse. (The survey is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C.)

Signs and symptoms of drug abuse in the workplace are absenteeism, staff turnover, lower productivity, poor work quality and overall poor morale. These can lead to increased accidents and near misses, theft of equipment and materials, and equipment breakdowns.

In addition, behavioral issues commonly are associated with substance abuse. For example, addicted workers may exhibit a change in attitude or work performance, erratic performance, hangover symptoms and secretive behavior. Other signs include isolation, forgetfulness, indecision, erratic judgment, impulsive and temperamental behavior, changes in personal appearance and hygiene, jitters, hand tremors, hyper-excitability, carelessness, sleeping on the job, trouble with police, aggression and constant illnesses.

If your employees are using, some common sites for drug abuse while at work are lunchrooms and lounge areas, parking lots and cars, remote areas of a worksite, equipment and storage rooms, and restrooms.

Read on to learn about today’s common drugs and identify whether your employees have addictions to these drugs:

Marijuana

Marijuana, also known as weed, reefer, pot, etc., comes from the hemp plant (cannabis sativa). About 10 percent of roofing workers claim to use marijuana. In 1974, marijuana had an approximate 1 percent content of THC (the chemical responsible for marijuana’s high). Depending on the grower, today’s marijuana’s THC content can be between 15 and 22 percent.

Marijuana is highly carcinogenic. One joint is equivalent to 25 cigarettes. It can be smoked, eaten or vaped. Marijuana affects the user’s mental function. Feelings include a sense of well-being, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, depression, apathy, diminished concentration, delayed decision-making, impaired short- term memory, erratic cognitive functions and distortions in time estimation.

Signs and symptoms of marijuana use include impaired tracking, distinctive odor on clothing, decrease in visual functioning and other ophthalmic problems, reddened eyes, slowed speech, chronic fatigue and a lack of motivation. Acute/overdose effects are aggressive urges, anxiety, confusion, fearfulness, hallucinations and heavy sedation.

Withdrawal comes with a loss of appetite, restlessness, chronic fatigue and a lack of motivation.

Methamphetamine

Amphetamine, methamphetamine, uppers, speed, crank and ice are similar in makeup and effect. The second-most widely used drug (after marijuana), meth can come in different colors: white, brown, pink. It can be taken orally as tablets or capsules. Its liquid form can be injected or mixed with other fluids and drank. It can also be snorted as a powder. In its rock form, it can be smoked.

Within minutes after being smoked or injected, users experience an intense “rush”, which is said to be very pleasurable. Although the rush only lasts a few minutes, the effects can last for up to 12 hours and keep users awake and moving for several days at a time. Meth users build up a tolerance, which forces them to have a strong desire for more.

Visible signs and symptoms of meth use are hyper-excitability, dilated pupils, profuse sweating, confusion, panic, talkativeness and an inability to concentrate. Regular use produces strong psycho- logical dependence and increased drug tolerance. High doses may cause toxic psychosis, resembling schizophrenia. Intoxication may induce heart attack or stroke. Chronic users experience increased impulsive or risk-taking behaviors.

Withdrawal causes severe depression. The effects of meth are so potent that there is a 95 percent relapse rate.

Cocaine

Cocaine was once called the “Rich Man’s Drug” because of its short-lived effects. Regular use can upset chemical balance in the brain. It also causes the heart to beat faster and harder. Deaths caused by overdose can occur when taken with depressants.

Signs and symptoms of cocaine use in the workplace include financial problems; frequent absences from work; increased physical activity followed by fatigue, isolation and withdrawal.

Cocaine users usually show increasing secretive behaviors and unusual defensiveness. Other symptoms include wide mood swings, nose problems, difficulty in concentration and dilated pupils. Cocaine addicts exhibit the strongest mental dependency of all drugs, and the treatment success rates are lower than all other addictive drugs.

Opioids

One of the worst drug problems in the U.S. today is the opiate/opioid epidemic. Natural opiates are derived from resin of the poppy plant. However, synthetic opioids are increasingly replacing natural opiates.

Addiction to opioid medications has impacted every level of society. Many people blame the addiction prevalence on health-care providers who are quick to write a prescription for help with chronic pain. An estimated 210 million prescriptions for opiates were dispensed in 2010 alone. According to DrugAbuse.com, examples of opiates include heroin, morphine, oxycodone (trade names are OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (trade names are Vicodin and Lortab), codeine and fentanyl. Frighteningly, prescription opiate abusers are far more likely to eventually develop a heroin addiction than a non-opiate abuser because heroin will offer a similar high at a cheaper price.

Any long-term use puts a person at risk of addiction, even if the substance is used as prescribed. Many people who use opiates will develop a tolerance to them—a phenomenon that can trigger the cycle of addiction. When this occurs, people routinely take more of the substance to elicit the desired response. This ever-increasing dosing places one at great risk for overdose.

Physical signs that someone may be abusing an opiate include noticeable elation/euphoria, marked sedation/ drowsiness, confusion, constricted pupils, slowed breathing, and intermittent nodding off or loss of consciousness. Other signs of opiate abuse include shifting or dramatically changing moods, extra pill bottles turning up in the trash, social withdrawal/isolation, and sudden financial problems.

Withdrawal symptoms from opiates can be extremely severe. The symptoms mimic the flu and include headache, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, fatigue, anxiety and inability to sleep. These symptoms can be so severe that the addict will do anything to feel better.

Don’t Mix Roofing and Drugs

Because falls from roof edges account for half or three-fourths of roofers’ deaths, it’s not difficult to understand why drug use on the job would be concerning. For roofers in residential construction, falls from roof edges accounted for 70 percent of work-related fall deaths and 90 percent of roof fall deaths. These statistics coupled with the statistics on drug abuse in the construction industry suggest that drug abuse possibly may be a contributor to falls.

LEARN MORE

How to Prevent Heat Illness in Roofing Workers

Here in the northeastern U.S., the leaves are turning green, birds are singing and the weather is pleasant. Soon, summer will arrive and this nice weather will turn into excruciatingly high heat and humidity. High heat along with high humidity are some of the major causes of fatalities for workers during the hot summer months. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration, between 2008-12, nine roofers died from heat-related illnesses and accidents in the US. Heat illnesses range from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, occurs in hot humid environments. It is caused by sweat not being allowed to evaporate from the skin. It usually occurs in areas of the body where the skin contacts clothing or other skin. Sweat ducts become plugged, resulting in skin rash. Heat rash is more of an annoyance than an illness. The signs and symptoms are usually a painful red rash aggravated by heat, humidity and skin contact. Heat rash, which is often accompanied by infection, is mostly prevented by cleanliness and personal hygiene. The best treatment is to leave hot, humid work environments; allow skin to dry; and bathe regularly. Sometimes baby powder or topical ointments can help.

Heat cramps usually affect workers who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels. Water loss affects the capability of the body to sweat and, therefore, regulate body temperature. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Sometimes these cramps occur after work hours when the employee is resting because the worker did not replenish fluids after finishing the day’s work. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Atlanta, symptoms of heat cramps are a severe rapid muscle tightening accompanied by pain and spasms usually in the abdomen, arms or legs. Workers with heat cramps should stop all activity and sit in a cool, shady place; drink clear juice or a sports beverage; seek medical attention if the worker has heart problems, is on a low-sodium diet or the cramps do not subside within one hour. Do not return the effected employee to strenuous work for a few hours after the cramps subside because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Heat syncope is fainting. Syncope usually occurs after prolonged standing or sudden rising from a sitting or lying position. Factors that may contribute to heat syncope include dehydration and lack of acclimatization. Symptoms associated with heat syncope include light-headedness and dizziness. Workers with heat syncope should sit or lie down in a cool place when they begin to feel symptoms. They should slowly drink water; clear fruit juice, like pineapple juice; or a sports beverage.

Heat exhaustion is the most common serious heat-related illness and is often referred to as heat prostration or heat collapse. If large amounts of fluid are sweated out and/or you’ve been sick, you will be predisposed to this level of heat illness. Signs and symptoms include continued sweating; cool, clammy, pale, and/or gray skin; temperature normal or slightly elevated; weak rapid pulse; dizziness, weakness and fatigue; and uncoordinated actions. Heat exhaustion, which is accompanied by nausea and headache, often leads to unconsciousness. Immediately remove a worker displaying signs of heat exhaustion from the hot environment and have him or her drink plenty of fluids and rest in a cool place. Untreated heat exhaustion cases may lead to heat stroke.

Heat stroke is the least common but most severe heat illness. If left un- treated, heat stroke can lead to death. The signs and symptoms of heat stroke include an elevated body temperature of 105 F or more. The skin of the victim will usually be hot, dry, flushed and red. There is the possibility that the victim will suffer convulsions. The victim will no longer be sweating adequately and may be confused or become unconscious Immediately call for medical assistance. Victims of heat stroke must be immediately removed from the hot environment. Cool him or her down with tepid compresses on the forehead, neck, groin and underarms—areas where blood flow is close to the surface. The cooler blood immediately spreads to the core. DO NOT USE ice water because the sudden change in temperature may result in shock. Begin fanning the victim with whatever is available: clothes, cardboard, etc. Heat-stroke victims will need medical attention; the aforementioned first-aid measures are life-saving tactics to be taken before the worker is transported to a medical facility.

OSHA also says the best way to stay cool when working in hot environments is to be acclimatized to the heat. Workers who start working in April when the temperatures are cooler and slowly acclimatize fare better when the thermometer climbs into the higher numbers. In addition, wearing a light-colored, wide-brimmed hat will keep the sun off workers’ faces and heads. Also, light-colored, loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts slow the effects of the hot sun on the body. The days of working shirtless in the hot sun are over. Not only can sun exposure cause skin cancer and dehydrate a person, it also ages the skin rapidly. Cotton is an ideal fabric to wear to slowly wick away sweat, allowing the body to cool naturally. There are also many new synthetic cooling materials on the market to help keep workers cool
in the hot weather.

Staying well hydrated is mandatory in hot weather. Workers may not be thirsty, but they must continue to drink water, juices or sports drinks every 15 minutes. They should not drink alcohol or caffeinated products. Coffee, tea and alcohol can help dehydrate a worker in the heat. A rule of thumb is to have workers check their urine. If they are not urinating, they need to drink more, and if their urine is dark it is a sign there is not enough water in their system.

Remember working in the heat of summer can be very dangerous. We must protect ourselves, our employees and our coworkers from heat-related illnesses. Watch out for each other out there; remember, “We are our brothers’ keepers.”

Learn More

For more information about heat-related illnesses, visit the following websites:
CDC.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/
OSHA.gov/SLTC/heatillness/edresources.html

Data Can’t Replace a Commitment to Safety

I recently read a paper titled “Predictive Analytics in Workplace Safety: Four ‘Safety Truths’ that Reduce Workplace Injuries”, published by Pittsburgh-based Predictive Solutions. The company offers a variety of safety solutions to help customers improve and sustain their safety program results. The article stated that predictive analytics help many organizations gain insight into their operations and use their resources in the most effective way. These models predict the likelihood, frequency and location of workplace injuries using the customers’ safety-observation data.

How can workplace injuries be predicted? Predictive analytics draws real-time conclusions about future risk using safety-observation data. For instance, the company’s “Red Flag” model identifies projects, sites or work groups that show characteristics at a higher risk of incidents.

In addition, Predictive Solutions offers consulting services that drive culture and process change within organizations to create sustainable workplace injury prevention programs. In my experience, a company’s culture is the most important aspect in reducing workplace injuries. Predicting occupational accidents, incidents and injuries is great as long as an employer is willing to change its company culture. One does not need a library of data to determine there is a problem in a company. On the other hand, experience tells me that extensive OSHA citations, high EMR (Experience Modification Rating), high workers’ compensation premiums and high employee-turnover rates are indicators of a company in need of a safety program. How the ownership, management, and workforce view safety is the real key to preventing workplace incidents and accidents. A mountain of data is useless without a commitment to make changes within a company.

For data to make a difference in an organization, a safety program must be in effect in the company. A safety program primarily requires a firm commitment from the owners and top management, as well as buy-in from all employees and all levels of management.

Secondly, a written HASP (Health and Safety Plan) that documents the firm’s commitment should be in place. For help in developing a health and safety plan, a company can hire a consultant or a safety professional; contact the OSHA area office; or visit OSHA’s website.

In addition, training must be included in the program. This training must follow all the pertinent OSHA standards. The most important standards for the roofing industry to follow are fall protection, scaffolding and powered industrial trucks.

Finally, it is important to provide feedback through job-site audits and inspections. These inspections can be performed in-house by managers, supervisors or a safety professional. Through inspections, the company can determine if its program is working.

Collecting data for the sake of collecting data is absolutely useless without a viable documented safety culture. Training and inspection programs must also be in place to address the data that has been collected.

Are Union Workers Safer?

A colleague recently shared an article with me about the differences in accident and incident re- porting in unionized roofing construction compared with non-union firms. The study, “Protecting Construction Worker Health and Safety in Ontario, Canada”, which was conducted by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH), a non-profit research organization headquartered in Toronto, suggests unionized construction firms experience fewer serious and costly injuries than non-union firms. The IWH study states construction firms that employ union workers have fewer work injuries that require workers’ compensation payments for time away from work.

Although the IWH study was conducted in Canada, it has direct implications for the roofing industry in the U.S. According to Injury Facts, a publication of the Itasca, Ill.-based U.S. National Safety Council, 74,500 construction workers suffered “lost-time” injuries in 2014. Lost-time injuries are on-the-job injuries serious enough that they keep workers from doing their jobs and require costly workers’ compensation reimbursements.

The IWH study’s findings indicate unions, as well as unionized construction firms, may encourage occupational injury reporting and reduce risks through training, hazard identification and control.

To unionize or not to unionize? That is the question that has gone on since unions first began to organize. I myself am a union journeyman, but I see the positive and negative aspects to both sides. In the construction trades, unions are hiring halls for skilled workers. Workers will either shape up or wait to be called for work on a daily basis. These workers will be at one site for a while, get laid off, then simply move on to another site. Union tradesmen have no vested interest in a company, whereas company employees’ livelihoods depend on the company doing well.

Whether union or non-union, I believe the discrepancy lies in company culture. Employees of non-union roofing firms may not report minor injuries or work-related illnesses because they may be afraid of being fired or that reporting would have a negative impact on the company. In addition, the owner and management of a company may not be aware of the implications of not reporting—or underreporting. And there’s always the possibility that this male-dominated culture may frown on reporting as being weak.

Unfortunately, there are roofers who believe they cannot compete if they follow OSHA and other governmental standards. More often, some roofers hire day-laborers and give them no training and no workers’ compensation benefits. I have heard stories of some of these workers being injured and dumped out of the back of a pickup truck at a local emergency room like garbage.

On the other hand, I have worked with non-union firms that place a high value on safety. The owners of these companies demand even the smallest incidents be reported. Perhaps this is so they can track trends in the workplace: If there are many employees being injured in the same way, the company can take steps to fix the issue.

Also, minor injuries, if not treated immediately, can become major hospitalizations. Imagine a worker steps on a nail, then keeps working. The wound becomes infected and septicemia develops. The worker ends up in the hospital. In keeping with the new OSHA reporting standard, OSHA must be called within 24 hours of the injury. This may spark an OSHA inspection of the company’s site.

Another example: An employee twists his lower back on the job, then proceeds to “work through it.” He goes to bed that night and in the morning the pain is so severe he can’t get out of bed. Now we’re dealing with a lost-time incident that must be documented on the 300 Log. Beyond that, how does the employer know it truly happened on the job and not outside?

Union roofing firms tend to be larger in scope. They tend to do mostly higher-dollar-value jobs. For this reason, union roofing firms tend to keep better records, which is important in the case of OSHA inspections or legal disputes over a workplace injury. Documentation—or lack thereof—will show whether an employee took all reasonable precautions to carry out his or her work safely, as well as prove whether all safe operating procedures were followed. Importantly, documentation can lower the liability that arises for failure to take reasonable care on the job site.

Documentation is also required in several OSHA standards. Under the OSHA Recordkeeping regulation (29 CFR 1904), covered employees are required to prepare and maintain records of serious occupational injuries and illnesses, using the OSHA 300 Log. This information is important for employers; insurance providers; workers; and OSHA in evaluating the safety of a workplace, understanding industry hazards, and implementing worker protections to reduce and eliminate hazards.

Employers who cannot or will not see the value of providing a safe and healthful workplace and who believe they should not have to follow governmental regulations end up being a burden on society—because when their workers get killed or seriously injured, it is a burden on everyone. Unions can’t completely stop these problems, but they can help to alleviate them through member training.

How to Deal with an OSHA Inspection

Dealing with an OSHA inspection requires some knowledge of the Washington, D.C.- based Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s history and its background. OSHA is part of the U.S. Department of Labor and was created through the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which was signed into law on Dec. 29, 1970, by President Richard M. Nixon. Before OSHA, there were nearly 6,000 workplace fatalities annually, 50,000 deaths from workplace-related illnesses and 5.7 million non-fatal workplace injuries. Injuries alone cost American businesses more than $125 billion.

OSHA is responsible for worker safety and health protection, and it has made a significant difference in the safety and health of workers in all industries. Since its inception, OSHA helped cut the work-related fatality rate in half; worked with employers and employees to reduce injuries and illnesses by 40 percent; and reduced trenching and excavation fatalities by 35 percent. To accomplish these goals, OSHA encourages employers and employees to reduce workplace hazards and implement new safety and health programs, as well as improve existing ones.

Consequently, all U.S.-based businesses covered by the OSH Act are subject to inspection by OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs). Most inspections are conducted without advance notice. Because OSHA cannot inspect all 7 million workplaces it covers each year, it seeks to prioritize its focus on those that present imminent danger situations—hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm.

Keep in mind that OSHA considers an employee on a roof over 6-feet high without fall protection imminently dangerous.

Other high priorities include fatalities and catastrophes, which are any incidents involving the deaths or hospitalizations of three or more employees. These catastrophes must be reported to OSHA within eight hours. In addition, employers must report any employee hospitalizations, amputations or loss of an eye within 24 hours. Complaints, allegations of hazards or violations also receive high priority. Referrals of hazard information from other federal, state or local agencies; individuals; organizations; or the media receive consideration for inspection. Follow-ups—checks for abatement of violations cited during previous inspections—are conducted by the agency in certain circumstances. Planned or programmed investigations will sometimes be aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries or illnesses.

Roofing is considered a high-hazard industry. Roofing job sites are highly visible and working roofers can be seen from several blocks away; therefore, possible infractions or violations are much more visible. As such, it is likely OSHA may come to visit your job site.

When a CSHO comes onsite, the first thing he or she is supposed to do is announce himself or herself to the management representative (the owner, superintendent, foreman or safety consultant). At this point, the CSHO will show his or her credentials—these credentials are similar and carry the same weight of law as those of an FBI agent. CSHOs also have a working relationship with other governmental agencies. An OSHA compliance officer can call in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, local Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Transportation, or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if he or she suspects other regulatory infringements.

At this point, the CSHO will conduct the opening conference and explain why this workplace was selected for inspection and describe the scope of the inspection. The employer will choose a representative to accompany the officer during the inspection. An authorized representative (often a union representative, someone designated by employee consensus or even the complainant) of the employees has the right to join the inspection. Regardless, the officer will consult privately with a reasonable number of employees during the inspection. The company representative may not be allowed to participate in these consultations. (Learn more in an OSHA Inspections Fact Sheet.)

Following the opening conference, the compliance officer and representatives will walk through the portions of the job site covered by the inspection, looking for hazards that could lead to employee injury or illness. The compliance officer also will review workplace injury and illness records and posting of the official OSHA poster.

During the walkthrough, the compliance officer may point out some violations that can be corrected immediately. Although the law requires these hazards be cited, prompt correction is a sign of good faith on the part of the employer. Compliance officers try to minimize work interruptions during the inspection and will keep confidential any trade secrets they observe. The only time a CSHO can stop a job is if an employee is in immediate danger.

As a professional safety consultant, I have been involved in numerous OSHA inspections. During these inspections, I collect information. I listen to what the CSHO has to say and take copious notes. I know the rules OSHA must follow and I note every possible mistake or shortcut the officer may make during the information-gathering process. While doing this, I am cordial with the officer; I speak politely and respectfully and as little as possible. The information I gather can sometimes be used at the informal hearing to get some of the citations lowered or, if OSHA is mistaken or has not followed its own protocols, removed completely.

In the meantime, I make sure my client immediately fixes any issues that OSHA has cited us on. Just like OSHA, I want all employees to be able to work safely and without the fear of injury and illness.

OSHA’s Focus Four

I’m a safety professional. It’s what I do. When I drive around my neighborhood, I observe the practices of roofers who are working. Rarely—if ever—do I see them using proper fall protection. It is upsetting to me because hundreds of roofers fall to their deaths in the U.S. every year, and fall-related standards are consistently in OSHA’s most cited standards.

The Washington, D.C.-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Focus Four are the four most common causes of death and serious injury in the construction industry. OSHA’s title, Focus Four, is basically a warning in and of itself: These are the four hazards to which OSHA officials pay the most attention. It is not surprising, then, that the Focus Four are always among OSHA’s most cited standards.

The Focus Four Are:

  • Falls
  • Struck by object
  • Electrocutions
  • Caught in/between

The Focus Four with statistics from construction in 2013 are:

  • 1) Falls: 302 out of 828 total construction deaths (36.5 percent)
  • 2) Struck by object: 84 deaths (10.1 percent)
  • 3) Electrocutions: 71 deaths (8.6 percent)
  • 4) Caught in/between: 21 deaths (2.5 percent)

Now do you see why these hazards are titled the Focus Four?

Falls from height are the primary cause of fatalities in the roofing industry. Between 2012-14, there were more than 1,300 roofer fatalities from falls. Year after year, falls are No. 1 on OSHA’s Focus Four. In addition, fall-related topics are heavily represented in the top 10 most-cited OSHA standards (see list below).

Struck-by incidents, while not as common as falls, can also cause death and serious injuries in the roofing trade. Employees throwing scrap material off a roof without a chute or in a controlled landing area combined with employees not wearing proper personal-protective equipment can lead to serious struck-by incidents.

Electricity also poses a safety risk for roofers. It can kill in three ways: falls, burns and electrocution. Working too closely to electrical lines, using aluminum ladders and working with metallic conductive gutters, as well as using conductive roofing and flashing materials, can lead to death from electrocution. In addition, a lack of ground-fault protections while using damaged, non-construction-rated electrical cords with missing ground plugs can lead to fatalities.

Caught-in/crushed-by incidents are less prevalent in the roofing industry. However, there have been occasions where employees are caught in ladders and killed. It happens.

The Focus Four are, of course, not the only hazards. Particularly in hot weather, heat syncope, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are all prevalent in the roofing industry.

Construction inspections account for 60 percent of OSHA’s total inspections. In 2009, preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, suggest there were 816 fatal on-the-job injuries involving construction workers—more than in any other single industry sector and nearly one out of every five work-related deaths in the U.S. In the same year, private-industry construction workers had a fatal occupational injury rate nearly three times that of all workers in the U.S.: 9.7 per 100,000 full-time equivalent construction workers versus 3.3 per 100,000 for all workers. (Learn more from the Construction Focus Four: Outreach Training Packet.) Therefore, it seems to me it’s a good idea to follow OSHA’s fall-protection standards—as well as its other standards. It just might save lives.

THE 10 MOST FREQUENTLY CITED OSHA STANDARDS IN 2014

  • Fall Protection, Construction (29 CFR 1926.501)
  • Hazard Communication Standard, General Industry (29 CFR 1910.1200)
  • Scaffolding, General Requirements, Construction (29 CFR 1926.451)
  • Respiratory Protection, General Industry (29 CFR 1910.134)
  • Powered Industrial Trucks, General Industry (29 CFR 1910.178)
  • Control of Hazardous Energy(lockout/tagout), General Industry (29 CFR 1910.147)
  • Ladders, Construction (29 CFR 1926.1053)
  • Electrical, Wiring Methods, Components and Equipment, General Industry (29 CFR 1910.305)
  • Machinery and Machine Guarding, General Industry (29 CFR 1910.212)
  • Electrical Systems Design, General Requirements, General Industry (29 CFR 1910.303)

The Aftermath of Construction Accidents

According to a 2014 Washington, D.C.-based Bureau of Labor Statistics press release, the construction industry has the highest fatality rate of any industry in the U.S. In 2013, the construction industry saw a total of 796 fatal injuries with more than 100 more deaths than the next highest industry fatality rate in transportation and warehousing. Within the construction industry, general construction laborers are the most at risk for injury or death on the job.

These statistics are frightening, and the reality is that most construction accidents could have been prevented. Washington-based OSHA standards are in place to prevent most construction workplace accidents. Many of the primary causes of injury, including the fatal four—falls, struck by an object, electrocution, and caught-in/between—can be prevented if proper care is taken and OSHA standards are followed.

DEALING WITH A CONSTRUCTION-SITE INJURY

When someone is injured or killed at a construction site, the ramifications can extend to family members and last a lifetime. Work-related injuries can cause loss of income, chronic pain, extensive medical expenses, a decrease in quality of life and psychological suffering. Legal advice and workers’ compensation insurance can remedy the loss of income and medical expenses, but a worker can never get back his health and/or quality of life after a serious job-site injury.

Liability becomes an important legal issue after a construction-site injury and is generally determined by the following factors:

  • The responsibility of the general contractor to provide a safe work environment.
  • The responsibility of other subcontractors to act in a responsible and safe manner.
  • The responsibility of the worker to act in a responsible and safe manner.

Other parties that may be held liable in workplace injury claims include the employer, architects, engineers and equipment manufacturers. In some cases, fault lies with more than one party and navigating a construction injury claim without the aid of a knowledgeable attorney is nearly impossible.

A personal injury or workers’ compensation attorney working on a construction case generally does the majority of casework before a case is ever presented in court. The attorney must carefully investigate every detail of the accident independent of the insurance investigation and the injured worker’s employer investigation. The evidence presented in construction-accident cases often determines a worker’s or worker’s family’s ability to be made whole for medical expenses, lost income, legal fees and more.

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