OSHA has hit the news again recently as they once again have delayed enforcement of their new rule on fall protection with regard to roofing and specifically the elimination of the slide-guard rule. They have put in place a moratorium on steep fines and penalties until September and have replaced that with a kinder, gentler approach to ensuring worker safety (coaching, training, and providing resources to employers).

So what’s next? I am fairly certain OSHA does not know since they have now irked everyone in sight, including the home builders, who backed OSHA’s original plan to eliminate all but 100 percent full fall protection for workers on a residential construction site working over 6 feet from the next level. Whatever is next, and September is only half-a-year away, I am sure OSHA will continue the push for 100 percent fall protection.

The industry has generally adopted use of personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) as a response to the changing rules and enforcement. Since OSHA has raised the bar on protecting workers from falls, this seemed to be the most obvious and fastest, least expensive solution. In my opinion, it is the solution of last resort and arguably not the best, but I cannot win the cost argument, at least not now (see what I said in the March issue of Roofing Contractor here.

Now that OSHA has raised the bar on residential fall protection and the industry has opted for PFAS as the answer, the bar on how we deploy PFAS is being raised. That, in my opinion, is not only a good thing, it is the right thing to do with regard to worker safety. This is because I believe an improperly trained individual is better off without PFAS than with it. PFAS in the hands of rookies is a hazard and may ultimately cause more injury and death than no fall protection at all.

Don’t get me wrong: I still support the idea that we protect our workers from injury and death from falls. Just letting you know that the “quick fix” of buying a bucket full of fall protection is not what it seems.

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) has come up with a couple of new standards addressing the use of fall protection that have been approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). To give you an example of how sophisticated the new (and necessary) standard is, here is a quote from ASSE member, Tom Wolner, ME, PE, of Capital Safety as published in an article in Access Lift & Handlers: “This pre-planning process includes analysis of rescue needs, equipment selection, training and periodic evaluation of training effectiveness. The equipment types and performance requirements included in the code were specifically geared toward preplanned rescue events to support this approach.”

So the bar is being raised by OSHA in terms of fall protection enforcement and now the bar is being raised on the implementation of the remedy that most contractors are choosing.

Another interesting example is OSHA’s naiveté from the beginning when they first implemented the rule dropping the slide-guard exemption. An OSHA senior official wondered why we wanted to hear from them about fall protection at our Best of Success conference last year. He thought, since the rule would be in place by mid-September 2011, there would be nothing else to talk about and no industry interest in the topic.

I think fall protection and OSHA enforcement will be a hot topic when we reconvene Best of Success in September 2012. For that matter, fall protection has been a topic of discussion since I started in the roofing industry in 1974 and it will be a topic of discussion as I drift off into the sunset.