Washington Update - March 12, 2013


 Washington Update

Will You Be Ready If OSHA Visits on March 16?
OSHAWith the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set to begin enforcing new, more stringent fall protection regulations on March 15, NAHB is working diligently to ensure that builders are fully aware of the updated policy and know how to comply with the new rules in order to eliminate workplace hazards, boost worker safety and avoid costly fines.

Since September 2011, contractors have been required to comply fully with the Compliance Guidance for Residential Construction. However, at NAHB’s urging, OSHA implemented a phase-in period to provide home builders with more time to learn about the rule and get compliance assistance from OSHA. During this period, the federal agency’s temporary enforcement measures allowed for penalty reductions and lengthened abatement times if a contractor was inspected.

The phase-in period has been extended twice since the Compliance Guidance went into effect, and it is unlikely that OSHA will extend it again.

What does this mean for builders and their subcontractors?

Roofing contractors must use guardrails, personal fall arrest systems (harnesses and lanyards), or safety nets on all roofs with slopes exceeding 4-in-12 when working six feet or more above a lower level.

All other trade contractors must use guardrails or personal fall arrest systems (harnesses and lanyards), or safety nets when the height from one elevation to another is greater than six feet, unless employers can demonstrate that it isn’t feasible to use those fall protection systems or using the systems creates a greater hazard. In those cases, contractors must develop a fall protection plan that utilizes alternative fall protection measures.

All fall protection plans must be in writing and be site specific. However, the written plan developed for repeated use for a particular style/model home will be considered site specific.

The use of fall protection plans is limited to residential construction, and the home must be constructed using traditional wood frame construction materials and methods -- although the limited use of structural steel in a predominantly wood-framed home, such as a steel I-beam to help support wood framing, does not disqualify a structure from being considered residential construction.

NAHB strongly believes that the current fall protection standard can be improved and should be amended to acknowledge the unique nature of residential construction.

In a Dec. 10 letter and petition to OSHA officials, NAHB asked the agency to reopen the rulemaking and try again to create a rule that applies to home building, rather than continuing to impose a one-size-fits-all approach that is better suited to commercial contracting.

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 at www.nahb.org/fallprotection.

OSHA has also recently posted Spanish versions of its residential fall protection fact sheets online.

Federal vs. State Programs

Complicating the situation for some members, 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 administrators for further information on the fall protection standards applicable in their states.

More safety resources can be found on NAHB’s website at nahb.org/safety.

Resources for Builders:

For more information, please contact Rob Matuga at 800-368-5242 x8507.

Turning Lead into Gold

Lead PaintResponding to concerns from NAHB about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP) that is needlessly costing remodelers and home buyers money without contributing to safety, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) on March 6 introduced legislation to make this rule much more reasonable and cost-effective.

“I am pleased to reintroduce this important bill that reduces the regulatory burdens placed on home builders and remodelers by the EPA,” said Inhofe, who unveiled similar legislation in the previous Congress. “It is important that we take appropriate actions to protect vulnerable populations from the harmful effects of lead exposure, but it is imperative that these regulations are not unnecessarily burdensome and costly.”

Also signing on as co-sponsors to the Lead Exposure Reduction Amendments Act of 2013 (S. 484) are Sens. David Vitter (R-La.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Since the EPA instituted the rule on April 22, 2010, NAHB has led the charge in Congress and with regulators to seek sensible regulation of lead paint abatement and to keep it from needlessly costing home builders and remodelers time, money and customers.

The rule requires renovation work that disturbs more than six square feet in a home built before 1978 to follow costly lead-safe work practices supervised by an EPA-certified renovator and performed by an EPA-certified renovation firm. Any company doing work in these homes must also keep detailed records.

In 2010, the EPA removed an “opt-out” provision in the RRP rule that allowed remodelers working in a home built prior to 1978 to forego more expensive work practices according to the owner’s wish if no children under the age of six or pregnant women live there.

By removing the opt-out provision, the EPA more than doubled the number of homes subject to the RRP and addeLead Paintd millions of dollars in compliance costs nationwide without making young children any safer.

Just reinstating the opt-out provision — as NAHB advocates and the legislation stipulates — would save more than $500 million in compliance costs during the first year and $336 million annually thereafter.

“S. 484 will not only make the EPA’s lead paint rule more workable, but it will continue to protect pregnant women and small children against lead hazards,” said NAHB Remodelers Chairman Bill Shaw, GMR, GMB, CGP, a remodeler from Houston. “We thank Sen. Inhofe and the other co-sponsors for supporting these common-sense improvements.”

In addition to restoring the opt-out provision, the Lead Exposure Reductions Amendments Act of 2013 would:

  • Suspend the RRP rule if EPA does not approve a commercially available test kit for lead paint that meets the regulation’s requirements.
  • Reduce fines for remodelers if they correct paperwork errors found during an inspection.
  • Prohibit EPA from expanding the RRP rule to commercial and public buildings until at least one year after the agency conducts a study demonstrating the need for such an action.
  • Eliminate the “hands on” recertification training requirements that force some remodelers to travel long distances to training facilities to receive proper recertification.
  • Clarify the definition of “abatement” to specifically exclude remodeling and renovation activities.
  • Provide an exemption to the rule for emergency renovations.

NAHB is calling on its members to contact their senators and urge them to co-sponsor the Inhofe bill.

Lead Paint Resources

To help remodelers comply with the lead paint rules, NAHB has compiled several resources for its members at nahb.org/leadpaint, including:

For more information, please contact Courtney Flezzani at 800-368-5242 x8459. 

Federal Roundup: New I-9 Form, Immigration Testimony, QM and QRM Rules and More

Alert: New I-9 Form Must be Used After May 7

Federal law requires employers to verify the identity and work authorization of all new hires through completion of the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 within three business days after the individual is hired. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency has issued a new Form I-9 for Employment Eligibility Verification. This form is available for immediate use, but employers may continue to use the previous version (original expiration was Aug. 31, 2012) until May 7, 2013.

After May 7, 2013, all employers must use only the newly revised Form I-9 (expiration March 31, 2016) for each new employee hired, or be subject to a civil penalty if audited. Be advised that the new form requires additional data, and expands the form from one page to two. To help employers to familiarize themselves with the new format and instructions, USCIS is offering free educational webinars that highlight the new features of the form and also include a detailed overview of how to use Form I-9. Here is the schedule of webinars. Download the new form and instructions at www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-9.pdf.

For more information, email David Crump at NAHB or call him at 800-369-5242 x8491.

E-Verify a Key Component of Immigration Reform, Utah Home Builder Tells CongressGamvroulas

Christopher Gamvroulas, president of Salt Lake City-based Ivory Development, told Congress on Feb. 27 that a viable, workable and mandatory E-Verify program for all U.S. employers is an important step to address the illegal immigration issue. Testifying on behalf of NAHB before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, he also urged lawmakers to safeguard our nation’s borders and create a guest worker program that enables construction industry employers to recruit legal immigrant workers when there is a shortage of domestic workers.

For more information, see NAHB’s press release or contact Suzanne Beall at 800-368-5242 x8407.

NAHB and its Coalition Members Raise Concerns About an Immigration Commission

In a related development, the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC) issued a statement March 8 expressing its deep concern about proposals circulating in Washington that would appoint a commission to determine “worker shortages” and decide the number of foreign workers to be admitted to the United States every year. NAHB is a member of EWIC, a broad-based coalition of national businesses and trade associations that supports policies that facilitate the employment of essential workers by U.S. companies that are unable find American workers.

“A critical element of a reform package is a program to supply the U.S. economy with the workers it needs to recover from the downturn and grow in years ahead, replacing the current unlawful influx with a legal workforce,” the statement said. “This visa program must give employers, not the government, the primary say in which workers they need to staff their businesses and give the labor market, not Congress or a commission, the primary say in how many workers enter the country annually in a legal program.”

For more information, email Suzanne Beall at NAHB or call her at 800-368-5242 x8407.


NAHB and Other Groups Oppose Restrictive Downpayment Requirements

As a member of the Coalition for Sensible Housing Policy, NAHB joined 48 other consumer organizations, civil rights groups, lenders, and housing and real estate professionals in sending a joint letter to federal regulators on March 4 urging them to provide sustainable mortgage credit to the broadest possible segment of qualified borrowers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Jan. 10 issued its final rules on a qualified mortgage (QM) standard. The qualified mortgage rule stipulates that borrowers must be able to repay home loans issued to them and will set the parameters for all mortgage financing going forward.

A “qualified residential mortgage,” or QRM, is one that can be sold by the lender on the secondary mortgage market. The joint letter to regulators said that “synchronizing the QRM definition with the QM would ensure that strong incentives for safe and sound lending are in place, while not impairing the return of private capital to all segments of the mortgage finance market.” Further, the coalition said it “strongly opposes the addition of stringent downpayment and other restrictive requirements to the QRM definition that will ultimately limit the ability of private capital to reach lower income households and first-time buyers. QRM should not be more restrictive than QM.” Regulators are expected to issue the final QRM rules later this year.

For more information, email Jessica Lynch at NAHB or call her at 800-368-5242 x8401.

Key Lawmakers Receive Tax Reform Briefing from NAHB

The House Ways and Means Committee has formed 11 working groups to focus on different sections of tax reform. The one focusing on real estate is being led by Reps. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). On March 12, NAHB Chairman Rick Judson and NAHB staff presented the association’s views on tax reform to the real estate working group. In the week prior to the presentation, NAHB sent out a BuilderLink Alert to its members urging them to ask their member of Congress who serves on the tax-writing panel to attend this meeting. View a list of the 11 working groups, including the chair and vice chair for each group, here.

For more information, email J.P. Delmore at NAHB or call him at 800-368-5242 x8412.

HUD Programs Cut 5% Under Sequestration

The automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration took effect on March 1. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reports that this will result in budget cuts of 5% for several programs administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Agriculture Department – including Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnership and rental assistance for rural residents. NAHB is still waiting to receive more information from the agencies on how they will handle the possible funding cuts resulting from sequestration. The only notice that has been issued is from HUD regarding how Public Housing Agencies can operate most effectively under austere conditions. A chart offering more details on which programs are subject to the sequester, and at what amounts, can be found here. NAHB will continue to closely monitor events related to the sequestration.

For more information, email Kedrin Simms Brachman at NAHB or call her at 800-368-5242 x8413.

Builders Support Strategic Minerals, Metal Theft Prevention and Contract Neutrality Bills

On March 7, NAHB sent Congress three distinct letters in support of pending legislation. In the House, NAHB voiced its backing for H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act. This is particularly important to home builders, given that prices of oriented strand board have soared 92% from a year ago and framing lumber prices are also up 28%. At the end of 2012, the price of gypsum was running 32% above its most recent low in February of 2011. By streamlining the permitting process and attracting investment in domestic mining of critical minerals, H.R. 761 would ultimately provide consumers with more affordable housing through a wider variety of choices in building materials.

H.R. 436, the Government Neutrality in Contracting Act, would eliminate the federal preference for large public works projects to be constructed under project labor agreements, allowing private contractors to compete for public projects on a level playing field.

Finally, Senate bill S. 394, the Metal Theft Prevention Act of 2013, would help prevent the theft of copper plumbing, electrical wiring, air conditioning units and other valuable metals from construction sites. Working in tandem with existing state and local laws, the bill would make it a federal offense to steal metal from critical infrastructure, require transactions between the sellers of copper and secondary metal recyclers to be documented and assess penalties for non-compliance.

For more information on the three bills, email Suzanne Beall at NAHB or call her at 800-368-5242 x8407.

Bipartisan Policy Center Housing Commission Releases Recommendations

The Bipartisan Policy Center Housing Commission on Feb. 25 announced its proposals to reform the U.S. housing finance system. Though NAHB does not agree with all of the proposals put forth, the commission’s housing report will help to advance an exchange of ideas around housing policy. The report outlines several goals worth pursuing, such as ensuring the federal government plays a proper role in backing up the nation’s housing finance system, taking necessary action to ease overly strict underwriting requirements that are preventing creditworthy borrowers from obtaining home loans and resolving problems related to inaccurate appraisals.

However, a number of the specific policy guidelines put forth would be of concern to NAHB members. For example, while NAHB supports efforts to protect and strengthen programs like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit that ensure the availability of safe and affordable rental housing, weakening policies and siphoning resources that support homeownership is not the right way to achieve this aim. It would be very counterproductive, particularly now when home building and homeownership are one of the few areas adding to job and economic growth.

NAHB looks forward to working with all interested parties to find solutions and enact policies that will foster a robust housing market, reform the nation’s housing finance system and provide affordable homeownership and rental opportunities for all Americans.

For more information, email David Ledford at NAHB or call him at 800-368-5242 x8265.

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