Are We Too Quiet About Safety in Roofing?
Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, founder of the Matthew Gfeller Sports Related Traumatic Brain Injury Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has developed several statistics regarding cognitive challenges affecting retired football players — including a 37 percent higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. I could continue to rattle off Guskiewicz’s studies and other statistics to support the correlation between powerful hits to the head and life-threatening ailments that may not surface until later on in life. However, given the abundance of supporting data, we can lean on common sense when discussing how these impactful hits prevent a long-term, sustainable a healthy lifestyle.
Head injuries continue to increase as a commonly discussed topic when we question safety in the NFL, the NCAA, or now even in the youngest level of play. Impacted players and their families continue to point fingers at the governing body of the players, team owners and associations. These players claim that they weren’t aware of the extensive risks of head injuries and that the coaches didn’t take time to make sure injured players were being treated properly or given the time they needed to heal.
Those of us listening hear the unspoken practice of players ignoring the pain they feel after a “big hit.” They’re viewed as tough if they get back in the game right away, or inversely, viewed as weak or letting down the team if they take the proper amount of time to make a full recovery. Subsequently, players have spoken up about risking their place on the team, their scholarships or endorsements if they acknowledge the pain. Football officials are now left holding a heavy bag of accountability because ultimately, they’re the responsible leaders and in the influential position to force safety standards but instead have been accused of choosing to stay quiet for too long.
Not a Game
Our roofing industry faces a similar challenge where leaders may risk assuming blame by not taking a strong stance on safety to educate as well as protect their workers. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is responsible for developing standards to safeguard employees. It’s the responsibility of employers to learn applicable OSHA standards and suitably inform their workers. For example, safety and health regulations set for the construction industry state that workers must have and use fall-protection equipment at heights of six feet or higher.
According to OSHA, employers must provide a training program that teaches construction workers to recognize hazards and reduce its risks. It’s mandatory that workers are trained in specific areas including the nature of work area fall hazards; toe-board requirements; the correct procedures for erecting maintaining, disassembling and inspecting fall-protection systems; the use and operation of controlled access zones and guardrails; PFA systems; safetynets; and warning lines.
Standards also clarify the role of each worker in the safety-monitoring system when the system is in use, limitations on the use of mechanical equipment during performance of roofing work on low-slope roofs, correct procedures for equipment, materials-handling, material storage and the erection of overhead protection. Best practices dictate that employers should document a written certification training including names, the subject of the training and date that the training took place. It’s also helpful to keep a copy of the training presentation, notes and videos to document the content used.
Specifically, an employer’s role in fall-protection seems to be lacking support with regard to the OSHA fall-protection standard. According to OSHA, falls accounted for 384 out of 991 total deaths in construction in 2016 or 38.7 percent. Roofing work is dangerous even under the very best circumstances, and nearly 90 percent of fatal falls happen when no fall-protection system is in place. Weather, height, unguarded roof edges and steep pitches invite debilitating falls to happen. Too often the perception of “tying off” on a roof slows down a project and supersedes our worker’s ability to focus on safety and health. It’s imperative for leaders to explain the repercussions of such shortcuts that ultimately, are not shortcuts at all.
My 11-year-old daughter once heard me on a business call, working through a workplace injury that was perceived to happen due to a worker taking a “shortcut” to finish a project on time. Ultimately, the worker was injured, the project halted, and multiple company resources were pulled from their day-to-day jobs to aid in the investigation and recovery efforts. My daughter simply said to me, “Mom I think that worker took the long-cut.” Children can simplify things for us through raw honesty and she was spot on. Our workers need to understand that perceived shortcuts are anything but shortcuts or time reductions to the overall project. It’s our responsibility to educate and support a safety perspective that leads us to finishing the project safely.
OSHA refined its fall protection standards in 1994, yet 23 years later, fall protection in the construction industry remained OSHA’s number one cited violation in 2017. Far too often we continue to see roofing crews not tied off on a roof or pictures of roofers in commercials and on social media who remain untied while working on a roof. The question that remains is, “Why are we not speaking loudly enough about safety and preventing our roofing industry from becoming the very best version of itself?”
In football and in the roofing industry there should be no excuse for taking the perceived shortcut. When we don’t insist that we will properly protect our employees and our players, unfortunately we all play a part in risk assumption and aid to devastating outcomes.