I recently received a flurry of e-mails with news reports about a roofing contractor and his foreman in California being charged with involuntary manslaughter in the 2008 death of one of their workers. These charges were announced by the San Francisco District Attorney in April 2010. Co-workers and associates expressed shock at the news.
To tell the truth, I saw the report the day it hit and it did not strike me as especially unusual. Not to diminish the tragic death of a roofing worker, but I have been reading reports of owners and managers and even companies being charged with manslaughter in the United Kingdom, Australia, and other parts of the world for years. This one struck me as fairly routine, but since it comes from the United States, I suppose it is not and is worthy of note.
Now we are witnessing a re-energized OSHA and the introduction of the Protecting America’s Workers Act that will, if passed, step up new criminal and civil penalties for willful safety violations that result in injury. Are these yet more wake-up calls to the roofing industry where worker safety and protection are concerned? Perhaps. But l prefer to continue making the case that protecting roofing and other construction workers from falls is simply the right thing to do. Fear of an OSHA fine or penalty of criminal prosecution should not enter into the equation. If that is your only motivation to provide a safe workplace for your people, you may be in the wrong business.
I believe most roofing contractors are genuinely concerned about their workers’ safety. Day in and day out I can see evidence of better fall protection schemes on roofing and re-roofing projects. As few as five years ago I was hard-pressed to find even one residential roofing job where workers were positively protected from falls.
But many roofing contractors continue to work from an old set of standards when it comes to worker safety. In the past, fall protection was largely ignored in many sectors of the roofing industry because we (I’m not blameless after this many years in the industry) simply did not believe it was necessary or worth the cost and/or effort to implement.
The industry has come a long way, but there is a long way to go to reach 100 percent on fall protection. If we have not already reached the “tipping point” on fall protection, however, it may be imminent. In my, view the industry will have reached the tipping point when all participants in the building process - designers, developers, owners, insurers, contractors, subcontractors - at least begin to demand 100 percent fall protection for all roofing and construction workers.
Simply put, it does not matter what OSHA standards say or how you were brought up in the business; you are responsible for your workers’ safety 100 percent of the time they are on the job.
I do not believe roofing contractors need to do anything in light of the somewhat shocking news that one of their own is being held in jail over the death of one of his workers. I do believe it is always a good time to evaluate the plans and processes you have in place in your roofing business relating to worker safety. If this kind of news is what it takes to get the process going, so be it.