It struck me as somehow odd that the nation’s homebuilders would back an initiative by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to require full fall protection for workers when they do so little by way of their construction design to accommodate worker safety — at least regarding the protection of workers who must work at heights.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) supported OSHA’s rescinding of the slide-guard rule. The NAHB was also one of the first groups lobbying OSHA for more time to comply. They got their wish both times as the rule was indeed rescinded and the time to begin full-out fines for noncompliance was stretched three months to Sept. 16, 2011.

Now some homebuilder groups are howling like crazy to have OSHA back off their inspections of worksites and emerging practice of fining builders for fall-protection infractions. Seems there are more than one of their subcontractors who work at heights and suddenly they are asking builders for the additional money it takes to fully protect their workers.

So the old adage holds true. When you want to get down to the real truth of the matter, “Follow the money.”

This blogger has been on the record supporting an improved safety record for the roofing industry. I believe we can and must do better. I believe in full fall protection for workers but would write the rules a bit differently. As for the punitive way in which our government goes about making safety happen, there are many arguments that it is not effective. You cannot, however, dispute that worker safety has improved since OSHA hit the scene in 1970.

I just think that not only could the industry do better, but OSHA could do much, much better as well. The present administration thinks so, too, but their interpretation of that does not take much of reality into consideration. Staging a fully-protected worksite costs time and productivity. Do not get me wrong, I believe in the investment in worker safety. But I also support affordable housing and would be a fool not to recognize that this housing market is the worst in my 60 years.

So the question is, can we afford to deal with this issue now? Can we afford not to? Tough questions to be sure. If you follow the money then the answer is “slow down” and take more time to evaluate sweeping changes to safety rules. A more incremental approach probably makes the most sense.

As a supporter of worker protection I would like to see the building and design community start working on building plans that lend themselves to safer construction methods. If, for instance, you are building a two-story home with a walk-out basement, you know it is going to be over 30 feet to the roof edge in the back of the house. That’s not uncommon where I live. Why not design in worker protection by taking into account anchorage points for Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS) or reusable rail guard systems? Mobilizing these fall protection methods would be much less expensive if they were baked into the construction of the house.

PFAS is generally acknowledged to be the worst solution of all in terms of fall protection schemes — the last thing you would do to protect a worker from a fall. Static schemes such as guardrails are considered much better by the experts. But PFAS is what most roofing jobs will end up using because structures are not built to accommodate other solutions.

Point is, this argument is going to continue. We invited OSHA to speak at our Best of Success conference in late September. We thought a dialogue with them would be helpful, but we did not have much dialogue and the presentation was ineffective. At least it provided the opportunity for the president of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), Kent Tolley, to invite OSHA, face-to-face, to sit down with the safety experts with NRCA and work on a better solution.

I think between government and industry there is a better solution than what we have today. They just need to get together, and I do not see this government moving worker protection forward in a positive way. More like a schoolhouse bully. Not productive. Not the answer.