Home / Commercial Construction / OSHA zeros in on fall protection (12:12 p.m. 11/9/09)

OSHA zeros in on fall protection (12:12 p.m. 11/9/09)

By Justin Carinci
Dolan Media Newswires

Portland, Ore. — Recently released federal and state safety data show that fall protection remains a top concern. According to preliminary federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration data for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, fall protection had the second-highest number of violations.

The previous year, fall protection ranked third, behind hazard communication; scaffolding problems resulted in the most violations both years.

Fall-protection violations topped Oregon OSHA’s most recent list for the 2008 calendar year. That marks the fourth straight year at No. 1.

Despite that distinction, the total number of violations cited by Oregon OSHA fell to their lowest level since 2004. Fall-protection violations peaked at 510 for 2007 and dropped to 402 for 2008.

Of those 402 violations, 386 came from construction sites. That’s down more than 100, from 497 the previous year.

Melanie Mesaros, Oregon OSHA spokeswoman, said efforts to reduce falls at construction sites have paid off, but it’s hard to pinpoint the effectiveness of any single prevention campaign. “We definitely have been focused on fall protection as an issue and have been reaching out to that community to get these numbers down,” Mesaros said.

The recession also might be helping construction-site safety, said Eliot Lapidus, safety and loss control manager for the Associated General Contractors Oregon-Columbia chapter. Because contractors aren’t as pressed for labor, they can increase safety prequalification requirements in contracts.

“Given the economy and the slowdown in activity, you tend to see more prequalifications,” Lapidus said. “You can be more selective, and contractors naturally want to have as safe a workplace as possible.”

Even with work sites getting safer, falls remain a problem on multistory commercial projects, Lapidus said. “If somebody falls, it’s a concern,” he said. “People tend to be not only injured, but injured seriously.”

Falls have haunted the residential construction industry for years, said Jim Fisher, former owner of a roofing company and current safety consultant. Roofing and homebuilding associations have worked to change that.

“They have come miles in the last 15 years,” Fisher said. “People weren’t using any safety (measures) at all.

“Now, they get out of the truck, drop the harness on the ground and put it on.”

Whereas the recession might have a positive effect on commercial job site safety, it has the opposite effect on the residential side, Fisher said. Homeowners choosing between a bid that includes safety precautions and one that doesn’t often pick the latter because of the lower price.

“On a $10,000 roof, it could be $800 to $1,200 higher,” Fisher said. “So they say, ‘I’m going to use Mike’s roofing,’” a hypothetical company. “And Mike has no clue about safety.”

Interest in safety has spiked in the past few years, said Fisher, who holds safety workshops with Oregon OSHA. Two years ago, he expected 25 roofers to attend a workshop, and 75 showed up. Six months later, the same workshop again attracted a standing-room-only crowd.

That bodes well for the future, Fisher said.

“The biggest thing (homebuilders) can do is realize there is a problem and then to diligently work to fix it,” he said. “It’s all about awareness and attitude.”

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