OSHA vs. State Rules: Residential Fall Protection

The Washington, D.C.-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration has demanded some states that administer their own occupational safety and health agencies and enforce state-specific workplace rules adopt federal provisions related to residential fall protection. California, Kentucky, Oregon and Washington are four such states with provisions for residential fall protection that differ from federal OSHA’s. One of the federal requirements is that fall protection is required in roofing work at heights of 6 feet or greater. OSHA has singled out this requirement as one that the states must meet or OSHA will take over enforcement of all construction workplace rules.

Government statistics indicate state plan states that use a risk-based approach, where roof height is one of many factors considered when developing regulations, generally experience lower worker death and injury rates than comparable federal states.

The recent release of initial workplace fatality numbers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, for 2014 has again brought the issue to the forefront and prompted the following Jan. 29, 2016, response from NRCA CEO William A. Good to Dean McKenzie, OSHA’s acting director of construction.

Dear Mr. McKenzie:

We are, of course, incredibly disappointed that you choose to carry on with your plan to impose federal rules, developed over the objections of the roofing industry, on states that have had considerable success with their own fall protection regulations. Those regulations have been developed, for the most part, with the ac- tive involvement of health and safety agencies, management and labor in the affected states. What’s more, in most of the states you cite as being deficient in meeting the federal “effectiveness” standard, the rate of accidents and fatalities from falls in construction is consistently better than it is in comparable states under federal OSHA’s jurisdiction.

And what’s even more incredible is that since federal OSHA unilaterally changed the rules for residential fall protection, the number of fatal falls has actually increased. OSHA’s promise that the cancellation of STD 3.1 in 2010 would make roofing workers safer has delivered the opposite result with 61 roofing workers killed by falls in 2012, 66 in 2013 and 69 in 2014. And yet OSHA marches on, unaffected by the facts.

How you can consistently ignore the data and instead rely on a vague definition of “effectiveness” is frankly beyond me, and makes absolutely no sense. It seems to me that an effective safety standard is one that actually works to protect workers from falls, rather than one that meets certain regulatory language.

In your letter you cite “standards that permit, for example, certain work to be performed at heights of 15 to 20 feet without positive fall protection.” As we have argued previously, the height of the roof is not the only issue that needs to be considered for effective fall protection. Rather, job-specific fall-protection assessment should take into account the type of building, the slope of the roof and the type of roofing materials being installed. This strikes me as being remarkably similar to the approach to safety Dr. Michaels, among others, has long advocated, but this approach is missing from OSHA’s heavy-handed efforts to impose federal rules on states.

In addition, if height were indeed the only issue, then perhaps you can explain why certain scaffolding operations are allowed up to 10 feet without fall protection, and why certain steel erection activities are allowed up to 30 feet without fall protection. And perhaps you can also explain why, over the period from 2010 to 2013, Texas had an average fatal construction fatality rate of 11.63, while California’s was 5.95.

The tragedy, of course, is that this isn’t just an academic conversation. Lives are at stake, and more are being lost in those states OSHA is responsible for than in those that have developed workable and, yes, effective, regulations.

I understand you choose not to meet with us to discuss this further. While I’m not surprised, I am left to wonder what is reasonably to be done to make roofing jobs safer. OSHA’s approach has made things worse, and you seem intent on just doing more of the same.

Sincerely,
William A. Good, CAE
Chief Executive Officer
National Roofing Contractors Association

Reid Ribble in Talks to Become New NRCA CEO

I just returned from what easily could be described as the best International Roofing Expo in recent memory. Attendance at the 2016 IRE, held Feb. 17-19 in Orlando, Fla., was up, exhibitors were happy and conversations centered around very positive business conditions.

The show’s energy was not lost on me, especially because I’ve written many editor’s columns since 2010 wondering whether it’s yet the year the construction industry returns to positivity after the housing crisis. Instead of searching for economists to support a rebound this year, every meeting I had at IRE assured me roofing—and construction in general—is on an upswing.

This momentum was further underscored by an announcement made during the show by the Rosemont, Ill.-based National Roofing Contractors Association: Reid Ribble, a U.S. Congressman for Wisconsin’s 8th District, currently is in negotiations to take over for William A. Good, CAE, NRCA’s CEO, who will retire Dec. 31, 2016. Good has faithfully served NRCA and the industry, and he has a very loyal following. I personally am grateful to Good and members of his staff—Ambika Puniani Bailey and Carl Good. They gave me my first job in publishing back in 2000 and were integral in making me the editor I am today. Therefore, I certainly don’t want to take away from what Good has done for roofing, but I can’t help but be excited about the possibilities his successor could bring.

Ribble is a roofing contractor by trade. He joined his family’s business—Kaukauna, Wis.-based The Ribble Group—in 1975 and became its president in 1980. Ribble served as NRCA president in 2005-06 and NRCA senior vice president from 2004-05, as well as held a number of other leadership roles within the organization. He also was president of the Roofing Industry Alliance for Progress’ Board of Trustees from 2008-10.

Ribble was elected to Congress in 2010 and has been re-elected twice. It may be a bit difficult to see why I’m excited about a politician taking NRCA’s helm—especially when I would describe our country’s current presidential race as wackadoo. However, I can’t help but focus on the positive traits of (some) politicians and Ribble’s in particular: He obviously is a leader. He is dedicated to public service. He knows how to build a constituency. And, in January, when he announced he would resign from Congress, Ribble noted his commitment to his family. In addition, according to NRCA’s “RoofScoop” blog post, “In Congress, Ribble has earned the reputation of being honest and able to work with representatives from both sides of the aisle.”

I hope he brings these traits to his new role with NRCA. I hope he surrounds himself with construction experts—even those he disagrees with—who will provide new levels of insight about the issues facing the construction industry as a whole: durability, energy efficiency, materials transparency, renewable energy, resilience and sustainability. I think Ribble has a wonderful opportunity to make the roofing industry the leading construction voice on these matters. After all, we know a roof is a building’s first line of defense. Shouldn’t roofing be the first industry called upon to assist in meeting the current and future needs of our buildings?

NRCA Issues Statement about President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration

The following statement is attributable to William Good, executive vice president of the National Roofing Contractors Association:

For many years, NRCA has consistently supported immigration reform that increases border security, improves workplace enforcement without burdening employers, provides an avenue for workers to enter the U.S. legally when our economy needs them, and addresses the problem of the existing illegal workforce in a balanced manner. NRCA believes immigration reform that addresses all these components is needed to fix our broken immigration system, end illegal immigration, protect U.S. workers and meet the economic needs of employers in the 21st century.

NRCA believes that for immigration reform to be successful in meeting the needs of the roofing industry, it is imperative Congress be the deliberative body that addresses this issue. NRCA is disappointed the House did not take up immigration reform legislation in the 113th Congress and urges the new 114th Congress to move expeditiously on immigration reform measures in 2015.

NRCA also is disappointed President Obama decided to move forward with unilateral executive action which can, at best, provide only a temporary and partial solution to fixing our broken immigration system. NRCA is further concerned the president’s executive action could cause significant difficulties for employers with respect to employment eligibility verification compliance and will be reviewing the executive order to determine potential effects on employers.

NRCA urges Congress and the Obama administration to work together to pass immigration reform legislation that meets the needs of employers and workers in the roofing industry as soon as possible.