Under Pressure from Home Builders, OSHA Delays Fall Protection Guideline Changes
**Update as of March 5, 2013 — NAHB does not expect OSHA to extend the phase-in period beyond the current March 15 deadline. Builders should be prepared to be in compliance with the new Compliance Guidance for Residential Construction on that date.**
Home builders and remodelers have been given a reprieve from OSHA enforcement of new, more stringent fall protection regulations from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which have been in effect since Sept. 15, 2011.
The previously announced phase-in period for home builders to comply with the new Compliance Guidance for Residential Construction has been extended until March 15, 2013 to allow the industry more time to learn about the rule and get compliance assistance from the federal agency.
"We are very pleased that OSHA heeded our calls," said NAHB Chairman Barry Rutenberg, a longtime advocate of sensible, practical regulations that protect workers from falls – the most-cited violation by OSHA in residential construction.
NAHB has long held that the new regulations -- including requirements that all residential construction companies must ensure that any employees or subcontractors doing work that’s six feet above ground or floor level must be protected with guardrail, safety net or personal fall arrest systems -- could actually cause greater danger on the job site than using alternate methods that home builders say are safer.
NAHB again made that argument and asked for the delay as recently as Dec. 10, sending a letter and petition to OSHA officials asking them to reopen the rulemaking and try again to create a rule that applies to home builders, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach that is better suited to commercial contracting.
"NAHB’s builder and contractor members make safety a priority and regularly take steps to reduce or eliminate falls during residential construction activities and comply with OSHA’s fall protection standard. However, after years of interpretations, compliance directives, and guidance documents that have failed to ensure compliance and improve safety, NAHB is convinced that the most beneficial way to address falls in the residential construction industry is for OSHA to promulgate a standard specifically tailored for residential construction," the letter said.
What to Expect in March
In its announcement Dec. 11, OSHA indicated that more time was needed to make sure the construction industry knows how to comply with the rule.
"The agency will continue to work with employers to ensure a clear understanding of, and to facilitate compliance with, the new policy," the press release said.
"OSHA will also continue to develop materials to assist the industry, including a wide variety of educational and training materials to assist employers with compliance, which are available on the Web pages for residential construction and the Fall Prevention Campaign.
The continuation of the temporary enforcement measures through March 15 "include priority free on-site compliance assistance, penalty reductions, extended abatement dates, measures to ensure consistency and increased outreach," the OSHA release said.
NAHB has provided its members an array of resources — including a sample fall protection plan, a residential fall protection fact sheet and an OSHA fall protection webinar replay — to help builders with this transition. They can be found at www.nahb.org/fallprotection.
More Inspections, More Fines
Not only do builders have to understand these changes to the fall protection guidelines, they need to know about all other workplace hazards that can lead to fines from OSHA, and be aware of plans for more inspections that are on the horizon.
In 2011 fines doubled from 2010, averaging $2,132 per violation. That means that a builder that gets 10 violations in one visit could see a bill for more than $21,000 in fines from the agency.
NAHB held a webinar to help builder members prepare for a possible OSHA inspection, which gave these tips:
Review your written safety program
Conduct an assessment to identify and correct safety hazards on the job site
Understand any OSHA national and local emphasis inspection programs
Develop procedures – and your company philosophy – for when OSHA comes knocking, and train your employees in those procedures
Update records and make sure they are readily available (300 logs, training records, etc.)
Conduct appropriate safety training for employees
In addition to fines, an injury or fatality on the job site carries significant costs. The National Safety Council estimates that the per-case average cost of wage and productivity losses, medical expenses, and administrative expenses to an employer would be $53,000 for a disabling injury and $1.35 million for a fatality.
“With OSHA’s stepped up enforcement and increases in the overall dollar amount of penalties, builders need to be prepared,” said Rob Matuga, NAHB’s assistant vice president of labor, safety and health. “Employers taking some simple steps to pre-plan for safety, such as identifying and correcting safety hazards on the job site, will go a long way toward reducing the likelihood of an accident occurring, and therefore eliminate the potential sources of loss.”
Federal vs. State Programs
Not all states follow the federal OSHA programs. Many builders/members are operating in approved state plans and will need to check with their local administrator for further information on the fall protection standards applicable in their state.