Magazine article Occupational Hazards

New Heights Set for Fall Protection

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

New Heights Set for Fall Protection

Article excerpt

A revised OSHA standard for fall protection in construction takes effect Feb. 6, and the government is making every effort to help contractors comply.

THE NEW FALL PROTECTION STANDARD for construction just might change the perception some people have about OSHA, claims Dale Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh, chief of OSHA's Division of Construction Compliance Assistance, laughed agreeably when told that a contractor might hesitate to ask his local OSHA office for help in complying with the new standard, fearing that bells and whistles will go off in an inner office after the visit, prompting an inspection of the contractor's worksite for fall hazards.

"People are afraid of OSHA. We're trying to change all that," said Cavanaugh. "We won't turn away any contractor who wants to talk to us about compliance with the new standard."

Cavanaugh said that the agency realizes that many small contractors have never had to use fall protection. Roofers working on steep roofs, for example, did not need to use fall protection if they were working at any height below 16 feet.

The new standard requires fall protection for anyone working at a height of 6 feet or above. He hopes that employers will turn to their area OSHA offices as a resource, rather than view them as the safety police.

"Small contractors don't have a lot of money and we're willing to work with them and help get them into compliance as long as they are willing to try and put some effort into it. If they are not trying, then we'll have to do something to get their attention," he warned, adding, "As long as they're trying, we're not going to be tough on them."

The agency is making every effort to get the word out about the standard and to promote a working relationship with contractors. In fact, the day he spoke with Occupational Hazards, Cavanaugh had just returned from a two-day seminar on the fall protection standard which was held for 150 OSHA employees at the agency's training institute in Chicago.

Regional OSHA offices will be offering seminars on compliance with the standard which will be open to all interested parties. In addition, the agency has worked closely with industry associations to provide them with information about the standard's requirements and OSHA enforcement.

Giving Employers a Voice

In addition to the 6-foot height requirement for fall protection, employers are being asked to develop fall protection plans if traditional fall protection methods are infeasible or create a greater hazard for workers. This is a new twist for the agency, said Cavanaugh, who admitted it will be a learning process for everyone involved.

While he joked about creating more paperwork for contractors and OSHA offices, he pointed out that the plans are an effort to help employers tailor their fall protection program to the specific needs of their employees. As long as the components found in two sample plans included with the standard are met, said Cavanaugh, employers will have a fall protection plan that will meet OSHA specifications.

Cavanaugh said there is some concern that acceptance or rejection of a plan will be viewed as an arbitrary decision on the part of an OSHA office, so the agency is in the process of creating a policy about the plans.

In fact, regional offices are being encouraged to help contractors develop plans that will meet OSHA requirements. The goal is not so much to enforce the standard by citing employers as it is to educate them about fall hazards and protect employees, said Cavanaugh.

Always a major safety challenge, falls are the leading cause of construction fatalities. …

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