Safety is the central theme of this month’s eMagazine as we feature enhanced coverage highlighting tools and equipment along with tips and techniques for safety. All this to help you make the most of your safety programs to keep you and your workers safe.

Since the topic of safety is rather technical by nature, I must point out that this column is commentary. Which is to say, this is simply my opinion, not approved by OSHA, nor anyone else for that matter.

I believe it is time to re-engage with OSHA on the topic of approving the use of slide guards under certain limited circumstances during work on steep-sloped roofs. 

There was a time when residential roofers were able to take advantage of an exemption from 100% fall arrest/restraint systems. The slide-guard rule was a temporary exemption that was eliminated, leaving roofers with the choice of erecting guardrail or scaffold systems, or using lifeline systems for every roofer on the job.

The natural choice is to use lifeline systems. In my opinion, this is using what should be the last choice for fall protection as the first choice. Makes little sense when you consider how very few roofing contractors employ lifeline systems at all. 

At best, roofing contractors or their subs have the lifeline equipment on the roof. They do not have it on, or they do not have it on properly in most instances. By far the worst thing about lifeline systems (beyond their wholesale lack of use on residential projects) is the way they’re improperly worn and used. It’s an active system of fall protection, so every user must know how to inspect it, how to wear it, how to safely work around the ropes and cables, and also know what to do in the case of an arrested fall.

Slide guards have issues as well, but they constitute part of a passive fall restraint system. If they’re not installed properly, they won’t function properly. However, you only need one competent person to properly erect the slide guards, and minimum training is required for other workers on the roof.

Slide guards also provide a measure of protection from falling tools or materials. Lifeline systems don’t. If the law of the land allowed for slide guards, I believe most contractors would comply in greater numbers than ever would with lifeline systems. And they would be relatively better skilled at their installation and use. 

An example of my point is found on the security camera video of a 14-year-old roofer sliding off a steep roof, reported on in March, landing on a driveway 20 feet below with serious injuries. It’s gut-wrenching to watch, especially considering that a simple slide guard might have prevented it. 

I understand slide guards are not 100% foolproof. I also understand that lifeline systems are 100% useless when left in the truck or back at the shop. And they’re not effective, and potentially dangerous, when used improperly. 

The roofing industry has some major issues with workforce development, materials pricing, and other supply-chain disruptions. These issues come and go, but continuously improving on our safety performance, as an industry, is something we should focus on every working day. Let’s lobby for a more usable solution for fall protection.