OSHA recently thumbed its nose at the roofing industry over the issue of continuing to use slide guards (in some cases) in residential construction. 

OSHA recently thumbed its nose at the roofing industry over the issue of continuing to use slide guards (in some cases) in residential construction. OSHA rescinded the rule that has been in place since the middle of 1999 which made the allowance for roofs sloped up to 8/12.

The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) reports that repeated efforts to make a case for keeping the slide-guard rule in place were ultimately rebuffed, and without (in NRCA’s opinion) OSHA coming up with evidence that the slide guard rule was not working. Assistant Secretary David Michaels of OSHA cites support from its Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health, the Occupational Safety and Health State Plan Association, and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), who have both recommended the withdrawal of the directive (STD 03-00-001). The rule goes into effect immediately and enforcement begins June 16, 2011.

This is interesting on a number of levels, not the least of which is the impact it will have on many of us in the roofing industry. Our shop is 100 percent full fall protection already; we never used the slide-guard rule, so it does not impact my life immediately. But it may impact some of my competitors and it will certainly have an impact on residential roofing contractors, especially those who work in new construction.

It is interesting that the NAHB has relatively high visibility on this issue. Not that the NAHB is not involved; they certainly are involved in and do their fair share of lobbying inside the Beltway. Most residential building contractors will consider this a win, as they think it will reduce their liability. The roofing industry argues that it will not, but what the roofing industry thinks does not matter to OSHA or the NAHB, I suppose. In any event, I do not think this is going to cost any homebuilder any time, money, or added liability come June 17, 2011. They will expect their sub-contractors to suck it up and keep on doing what they do in spite of the added cost and potential added risks of using fall protection schemes that involve ropes, cables, and other obstructions on the rooftop.

I feel like the industry can and should do a better job with worker safety, not just fall protection. I understand that fall protection is a vital component of any roofing project. I may buy into OSHA’s idea that the slide-guard rule should go, but it would sure be nice to see a case for it. The survey that NRCA cites is nice, but I think there are ways to study the issue that would be more robust and comprehensive - the kind of study you would expect a part of the government, like the Department of Labor (OSHA), might consider launching.

It would really be nice if the government would invite everyone involved to the table when it comes time to make changes to rules that impact industries and the people who work in them. It is a shame for everyone that OSHA is beholden to political interests. From one Administration to the next, it is subject to change. That is unfair to labor and business alike and should change. If OSHA operated like the Fed is supposed to, then perhaps real improvements in safety could be made over a course of years with less likelihood of the agenda changing depending on the party in command.