Due to seemingly continual confusion, misinformation and neglect on the part of employers, we have a link to a National Roofing Contractors Association Fall Protection Fact Sheet here: https://www.osha.gov/dte/grant_materials/fy12/sh-23536-12/StudentReferenceMaterials.pdf.
A link to the actual OSHA regulation is here: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10757.
Fall protection is not just issuing harnesses and lanyards to workers. There must first be assessment of working conditions and development and then implementation of logical, effective and safe means to protect employees. Fall protection for construction workers such as roofers includes a variety of protection methods. These can include: railings, netting, scaffolding, personal fall arrest (PFA) equipment, covers over roof and work surface openings and/or skylights. Equipment may also include roof slide guards, however OSHA asks that the employer be able to demonstrate why alternatives to regularly used fall protection and to develop a written fall-protection plan.
If an employee or contractor is on a roof or elevated work surface at or above 6 feet from the next lowest elevation (and that does not mean some skimpy toe hold) that requires fall protection safeguards, then the employer must provide such. In addition, on flat roofs, employees without PFA (personal fall arrest) PPE must stay back 6 feet from the edge unless there is a barrier that effectively prevents falling from the edge.
According to OSHA’s construction industry rules:
“Unprotected sides and edges. Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems”. 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(2).
So it does not matter what a worker is doing on an elevated work surface, if they are there, they must be protected. And yet, OSHA has made an allowance specific to non-construction activities. OSHA has made clear that inspection activities of a roof including investigation or assessment of workplace conditions prior to beginning construction or after construction is completed is not covered under their construction industry fall protection standard. Reference: 29 CFR 1926.500(a)(1). So the exception turns on pre or post construction and does not therefore specifically exempt other activities such as a roof or roof-mounted equipment inspection that does not specifically involve construction as noted above. In addition, OSHA’s own interpretation suggests that even roof inspectors, if not simply conducting a visual survey but also managing tools and equipment may become sufficiently distracted to increase the risk of falling and therefore their activities would not be exempt under 29 CFR 1926.500(a)(1).
We see OSHA’s qualification of their limited exemption as a concession to the roofing industry. Keep in mind that OSHA standards are minimum requirements as well and that you as an employer can always go better. In the end, we maintain that best practice is to prevent falls no matter the activity.
Finally, there are obvious downsides to non-compliance and although apparent, we will state some of them here:
1) worker injury or death;
2) increased worker’s compensation insurance premium costs;
3) Worksite closure while OSHA investigates;
5) loss of reputation;
6) other financial and/or opportunity costs.
Better to be compliant and safe rather than to make excuses or hope for a favorable outcome.