At first glance, opposition to the end of an exemption for safety requirements regarding fall protection systems on residential construction sites in the United States might seem an unusual basis upon which to award someone a Contractor of the Year title.
Yet where the requirements in question would have been unworkable, ineffective and had the potential to actually create additional hazards for workers, the Concrete Foundation of America (CFA) says it did not hesitate to give just such an award to a contractor who lobbied against the end to the exemption, especially given that his opposition was backed up by extensive efforts to develop a better solution.
On August 27, the CFA announced it had given its Contractor of the Year award to Lance Jordan, chairman of Stephens & Smith Construction Co. Inc. of Nebraska. Jordan has been a member of CFA for over a decade and served on the Association’s board for a three-year term which ended last year.
He was given the award for his leadership in guiding CFA’s position, in which the organisation opposed the end of an exemption for residential foundation construction with regard to requirements for active fall prevention systems.
Prior to 2010, CFA technical director James Baty said, the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA) provided an exemption from fall protection requirements to the residential construction industry due to a lack of technology available at the time to sufficiently address the requirements.
As the number of fatalities in parts of the industry began to mount, however, and better technology regarding fall prevention – at least above ground – became available, the OSHA set about cancelling the exemption across the entire industry.
That was a mistake. Much of the research initiated by the regulator had revolved around above-ground aspects of construction where structural frames exist for anchoring and excavations do not pose additional fall hazards.
By contrast, the regulator had overlooked foundation work, where, for various reasons, the CFA says primary systems specified by the OSHA (guardrails, safety nets and personal fall arrest systems) are not effective. Safety nets, for example, do not have sufficient arrest distance from the height of the top of the form surface on the vast majority of jobs, creating a hazard whereby workers could strike the ground before the net reaches its catch distance.
Worse still, workers would be placed at additional risk while trying to implement these systems in structures, which are by nature unstable until they are braced. In the case of doing foundation work, fall protection would need to be applied prior to the structures being braced.
In response, Jordon assumed a leadership role that led to open communication between the foundation-laying industry and key OSHA personnel both on a regional and a national basis to help the regulator fully understand the implications of its directives.
The result was a rigorous but flexible certification plan – currently in draft form – that will allow individual employers to adopt alternative fall protection plans where it can be demonstrated that the standard fall protection requirements are either technologically infeasible or pose a greater level of hazard in and of themselves than the protection they apply.
When presenting the award at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, Michigan in late July, Baty said Jordan exemplifies qualities seen in the legacy of many leaders within his organisation, especially with regard to his determination to find workable safety solutions.
Baty stresses the foundation industry’s commitment to safety, and emphasises that opposition to the end of the exemption was purely a matter of wanting to avoid rules that created more risks than they solved.
“This is absolutely not an industry saying we should be exempt from protecting workers from fall hazards, but rather one that recognises and owns the fact that the best fall protection plan is knowledge, skill, care and risk management,” Baty said, adding that in contrast to a rise in incidents in the roofing and framing industries, the foundation industry has a strong safety record over the last five years.
Rightfully, those in the construction industry who design and implement effective new safety standards gain admiration and respect from their peers. So too do those who speak out about inappropriate requirements and work proactively toward better and more workable solutions.