Safety Interview

Getting your workers home safe — an interview with the NRCA’s Harry Dietz

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Each spring for the last four years, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has hosted the National Safety Stand Down to Prevent Falls in Construction. Participants in all 50 states stage events designed to encourage employers to talk directly to employees about safety, to focus on identifying fall hazards, and to reinforce the importance of fall prevention.

Last year, construction organizations of all sizes and specialties, including highway construction, general industry, the U.S. Military, unions, and safety equipment manufacturers used the opportunity to have a conversation with their employees about building a stronger culture of safety.

This year, the National Safety Stand Down runs from May 7 – 11. Anyone can participate.

In recognition of this important mission, the GAF ProBlog spoke with Harry Dietz, NRCA Director of Enterprise Risk Management, about fall safety in the roofing industry.

ProBlog: Harry, why is the Stand Down particularly relevant for roofers? 

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Dietz: You just have to look at the numbers. In 2016, there were 384 fatal falls in the construction industry. Ninety-two of them — nearly a quarter — were in the roofing industry. Now the Center for Construction Research and Training is looking deeply into the traits of those falls. We’d like to know more details about the exact causation of the falls: what was involved, what was the nature of the roofing project?

That’s the only way to target the underlying issues — do those folks need more information, more training? What exactly is it they need to help reduce these incidents?

We’re also seeing OSHA citations going up for core issues like ladder violations. In 2016, OSHA issued 3,500 citations to the roofing industry— for more than $17 million in penalties — for failures in their duty to have fall prevention.

ProBlog: OSHA’s referral to a contractor or roofer’s “duty to have fall prevention” includes a very specific set of responsibilities, right?

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Dietz: Yes, and it falls into three basic categories. Most contractors are well aware of them, but it doesn’t hurt to recap. First, employees must be protected whenever they are six feet or more above a lower level. Second, employees not only must be protected from falls but also from having objects fall on them. And finally, the surface on which work will be performed must be examined and deemed structurally safe.

ProBlog: This is just a general overview, of course. Where can contractors get more in-depth information?

Dietz: Fall protection is covered under OSHA Construction Rules, CFR 1926, subpart M, as well as OSHA General Industry Rules, 29 CFR 1910, Subpart D. The NRCA offers a full-day class in fall prevention called Roofing Industry Fall Protection from A to Z. And the NRCA has hosted a number of webinars with GAF about roof safety. You can find them archived on the GAF website.

You’re Invited: Harry Dietz will host a joint NRCA/GAF Webinar on fall safety on May 23, 2018. Click here to register.

ProBlog: Is there any connection between the current labor shortage in the construction industry and the uptick in falls?

Dietz: It’s not a coincidence that the fall numbers have gone up as the amount of work activity in construction has gone up. There’s going to be a need for labor to handle an increase in projects, so the issue is always going to be, are the folks used on those projects being trained sufficiently? Are we seeing leased employees, people coming onto a job at the last minute? Does that correlate to an increase in incidents? From there, it’s not too great a jump to ask the question, “As the amount of work has increased, has every worker on that project been trained properly?” I wish we had data on that. That would be great to know. That would focus contractors’ attention on greater training. Again, we just don’t know what those factors are.

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ProBlog: While the experts from OSHA and the NRCA pull that data together, what should the concerned contractor do?

Dietz: Keep training. Keep doing jobsite audits. There’s no need to wait for data to come in to be able to say “We need to do more training and more job audits.” Safety training is key. In most instances, fatal falls have happened with no fall protection in place. So we have to ask, “What percentage of contractors are adhering to the standards?” We like to believe that NRCA members are leading the pack in terms of compliance.

ProBlog: Harry, concerned contractors can learn a lot more from the joint webinar later this month. Until then, is there one message you hope contractors take from this conversation?

Dietz: It’s important to make safety a part of the company culture. Just like there’s a proper way to flash a curb, or to install a shingle, making safety a part of your culture is also the proper thing to do. There’s a methodology that has to be followed. If the contractor says “We are not going to begin this job until every safety measure is in place,” then that message flows to the workers. Workers will then put those things in place. They’ll make sure that the warning lines are at the right height, that their PFAs are attached properly, and so on.

It all flows from the contractor who establishes a safety culture that improves productivity and, more importantly, gets those workers home in one piece.

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