Sticking with my firm belief that you are never too old to learn, I attended an OSHA-sponsored class on fall protection that was presented by the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) last week. I have been an observer of falls in roofing since 1974, when shortly after I began working in the industry a young man fell to his death during construction of the roof of the First Baptist Church in my hometown.

Back then I sold equipment to roofing contractors, including the kind that was associated with this young man’s death (track and trolley hoist). The hoist was set up but not ballasted or ready for use. It was assumed, because there were no witnesses, that he attempted to operate the hoist for some reason. He was not a trained operator and was not supposed to be using the hoist. It appeared that when he did the hoist went over the roof edge and took him with it, plunging four stories to his death.

I cannot tell you how many roofing-industry deaths I have reported on or read about or have otherwise been associated with in the intervening years. But I can tell you it has been too many.

Since I still maintain some responsibility for sending people onto roofs to load shingles or commercial goods, and since I have the responsibility for reporting on all things roofing, I attend seminars such as this one to keep up with all the latest changes in safety standards and OSHA rules.

There is another reason I attended this course, and that is the recent spike in OSHA citations involving fall protection. There is a lot of talk about the rules changing on fall protection in residential roofing, but those are pretty much a known quantity for all involved in the trade. It is enforcement of the rules that has taken a dramatic change and I believe the ramping up of enforcement is just beginning.

Truthfully, I am not bothered about this. If it will have a meaningful impact on the statistics it will have been worth it. Many will argue that it will not, but I think it is way past time for us to stop doing nothing to protect roofing workers from injury and death resulting from falls that are clearly preventable.

So, together with an associate, I attended the seminar and did learn a thing or two from NRCA’s instructor for this course, Harry Dietz. He is an excellent presenter and extremely knowledgeable when it comes to the minutiae of the Code of Federal Regulations. It’s very important to know these things (or to be a member of NRCA) when you find yourself on the jobsite with or across the negotiating table from OSHA.

Some of the rules have changed owing to cases going through courts and some things have changed (enforcement, for instance) with the change in the executive branch of our government. What is not changing fast enough is our record of deaths from falls in the roofing industry (SIC code 1761).

Against the backdrop of this seminar, attended last week but scheduled many weeks ago, there were breaking news reports about the industry record on falls. On top of that we had to endure the loss of another one of our own just a week ago in a fall through a roof in my hometown. I did not know the man personally, but I know the people he worked for and with. I know him in the way you know many of the people who live and work nearby or in the same industry as you. He was a man with a family. He was a man who worked for a living. He worked hard, because roofing is hard work and is not for the faint of heart. He will be missed by many people close to him.

And the kicker is, he was wearing his safety gear (PFA/harness) but did not have it attached. I do not know all the circumstances so will not speculate as to the what or why. I do know, however, that it only takes a worker a split-second to fall when they are not protected by some means.

I continue to believe that we can do better in this industry. We just all need to buy-in on the idea that our people matter more than productivity. Ultimately, however, I also believe a safer working environment will lead to increased productivity. Increases in production will come by way of better skilled and trained workers. And these workers will stay in our industry because they will know that they are valued and that their worksites are as safe and secure as possible.