Worker Safety – Where’s The Focus?

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My local media is still swirling over the death of a roofer yesterday on the US Bank Stadium project, the future home of the Minnesota Vikings.

Some media are reporting that the roofing contractor has had nine Serious OSHA violations in the past five years. The OSHA Establishment Search page is temporarily unavailable (again), so I am unable to conduct my own research. Each article I’ve read caveats the OSHA data with “it’s a large company” or “it is unclear if the worker was wearing a safety harness.”

This struck me. I do know the roofing company has about 150 employees, and this is not a large company. Any good safety professional knows that roofing is a focus industry and OSHA frequents roofing sites, especially residential. This particular company also does sheet metal work, so their projects are mostly commercial in nature. The stadium project involves installation of an ETFE roof, the first of its kind in a United States stadium. The roofing contractor’s website indicates their scope of work at the US Bank Stadium is 278,800sf of PVC Roofing System. The PVC tag on their website takes you to multiple completed projects that have also involved PVC Roofing Systems, so it appears they are experienced in the task.

Each job is different, and the investigation should shed some light on a site-specific fall protection plan and a related rescue plan. If the fallen employees were not wearing harnesses, lanyards, or other protective gear that they were assigned, trained on, and required to wear, then an independent employee act defense may be in play for any violations received.

When a workers falls, those not in the know immediately jump to fall protection. “Was he wearing a harness?” Again, safety professionals know that there is a hierarchy of safety controls that is employed when a hazard is identified. The first question should be “what engineering controls were in place to prevent a fall?” If engineering controls and administrative controls were inadequate to prevent falls, protective equipment would be required.

The workers are back at the jobsite today. The roofing crews will not be back until sometime next week. Locally, the focus may shift to the State Fair or other lighter topics. The general public passes over workplace deaths, unless it directly impacts them. I’m submitting the following statistics without editorial, I encourage you to share this information with others if it impacts you:

828 Construction worker deaths in the US in 2013.

126 Cops killed in the line of duty in the US in 2014.

4,585 Workplace fatalities in the US in 2013.

4,425 US Death Toll for Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003-2008.

*Sources for above statistics:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War

https://www.osha.gov/oshstats/commonstats.html

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/12/30/373985338/report-number-of-police-officers-killed-spikes-in-2014

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