Going Beyond Citations


Going Beyond Citations

Fall protection and safety standards are the bridge between completing a job and going home uninjured at the end of the day. 

We’ve all seen framing crews on a jobsite with no fall protection. It can be while setting joists or I-joists, installing rafters or trusses, working on the top plate of a wall or working inside a roof system. Why?

Normally when things that should be done are not done, there is a compelling reason, often related to an inability to meet the requirement easily and economically. What, then, is the challenge with implementing fall protection? “The bottom line is: smaller framing crews aren’t being paid enough to practice fall protection or have a safety plan and, frankly, builders aren’t requiring it,” said Bruce Jones, a contractor in Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Jones makes a good point. Large professional framing crews are generally better capitalized, have a larger asset base and face greater risk than smaller crews, so developing training for all employees can be a focal point of their jobsite management approach.

Another issue, though, is that years of successful work without fall protection can make it hard for crews to see the positive impact of taking extra time, every time, for safety gains they may not agree are there. “Until you see that first guy hanging 30 or 40 feet in the air, knowing his harness and safety line saved his life, you won’t see that it pays,” Jones said.

While framers are the biggest target for OSHA, they’re not the only entity in the construction industry that can see the rewards of using fall protection. Component manufacturers (CMs) are in a unique position because not only are some run by a larger parent framing company, but also those that are stand-alone businesses interact with framers in the field on a daily basis through component sales. It can be beneficial to both parties for communication about safety standards to go hand-in-hand with installation instructions.

“We have a safety officer in our parent framing company and, once a component order is fulfilled, we give him a schedule, every day, of what’s on for delivery,” said Keith Azlin, truss plant manager at U.S. Components, LLC. “He then hits every jobsite the following day to make sure the guys hired by our parent framing company are tied off on the roof when they’re installing our components.”

Even with the presence of a devoted safety director, Azlin says it’s a daily battle to remind framers to use safe installation methods. “We’ve worked hard to develop a fall protection standard in our company, given that we’ve seen fines before,” Azlin said. “Our entire organization has a big target on it because we operate the biggest framing crew in Arizona.”

Top 10 Most Frequently Cited OSHA Standards

  1. Fall Protection (1926.501)
  2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200)
  3. Scaffolding (1926.451)
  4. Respiratory Protection (1910.134)
  5. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147)
  6. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178)
  7. Ladders (1926.1053)
  8. Electrical, Wiring Methods (1910.305)
  9. Machine Guarding (1910.212)
  10. Electrical, General Requirements (1910.212)

More Far-Reaching than Fines

Fines from OSHA are just one piece of the puzzle, however. In today’s industry, the other piece is insurance, which comes in two different forms: self-insuring projects (both owner-controlled insurance programs and contractor-controlled insurance programs), and a company’s own personal insurance company. An OSHA fine certainly hurts, but an insurance rate increase due to an accident will typically result in a significant and ongoing financial impact.

“I’m more insurance-driven than OSHA-driven,” said Charlie Cheshire, president of Maverick Framing Inc. in Wylie, Texas. “I really think insurance will drive more fall protection than OSHA. Their requirements to be safer are going to outweigh anything OSHA could ever do.”

Cheshire says OSHA’s decision to raise citation costs certainly draws more attention to the topic of safety but even that may not be enough to effect change. A multi-thousand dollar fine is never good for business, but those who don’t practice fall protection either think they won’t lose enough money to warrant the extra precaution, or gamble that they won’t get cited. Buying in to fall protection as a key safety measure is what’s needed.

“Humans will always try to find the easiest way to do something. You can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do,” Cheshire said. “I think OSHA would have a stronger influence if they were more cooperative on jobsites, rather than just writing citations. That’s so confrontational.”

OSHA can levy fines all it wants, but the industry must get to the point where fines aren’t the defining reason for implementing safety programs. Fall protection and safety standards are the bridge between completing a job and going home uninjured at the end of the day. There’s a lot of living to do outside of work, but we’ve got to be healthy to do it!

About the Author: A graduate of UW-Madison with a degree in Journalism, Matt Tanger has five years of experience in residential home construction. As a technical writer and member of the SBC Magazine team since 2014, he works closely with members of NFC and SBCA.