Residential Construction Can Be a Deadly Business
Though I admit that safety culture across all industries has improved greatly, residential construction still has a long way to go.
In a discussion with Damian Lang, my partner and the CEO at Malta Dynamics, he mentioned his recent return from a golf trip in Florida. While there, he saw workers without hard hats or fall protection building houses and condos on many of the golf courses.
This isn’t far from what I experienced in the late 1990’s as an associate producer making safety and training videos for a Houston-based production company.
In this position, two things always amazed me:
• Most companies came to us to produce training videos after, rather than before, an accident occurred.
• Best safety practices are used more often on commercial jobsites than on residential jobsites.
We believed it was important to shoot the videos in the actual work environment. One day, the owner and executive producer of the company I was working for told me to get ready to do a shoot for a residential roofing company. We met with the jobsite superintendent and, once we wrapped our shoot, my first experience in understanding the hazards that workers face was complete.
Significant research is required to prepare a safety video. Gathering data from OSHA and other industry standard guides is a must. Computers were still pretty new and slow when I entered the industry, but if you did your research, you could always find valuable information. The subject of this particular video training was how to put on a safety harness, how to install a roof anchor and how to connect the two together. A couple of decades later, these topics are now the ABC’s of Fall Protection. I must admit, it is neat to look back on those days, realizing that we were on the edge of fantastic industry innovations in both equipment and training.
However, it amazes me that residential construction has not kept pace with commercial in its adoption of new safety equipment and practices. The stats below clearly show that residential construction workers make up a large portion of construction site fatalities. The National Safety Council reports that, using data from the NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program, researchers archived 768 construction industry fatality reports and created a searchable database, called the Construction FACE Database.
After analyzing incidents, researchers concluded that between 1982 and 2015:
• 42 percent (325) of the fatalities involved falls.
• 54 percent of the workers killed had no access to a personal fall arrest system (PFAS), and 23 percent had access to a PFAS but did not use it.
• Most of the workers with no access to PFAS worked for residential building contractors and contractors in the roofing, siding and sheet metal sectors.
• 107 of the 325 falls were from 30 feet or higher.
• 20 percent of the 768 deaths occurred in the victims’ first two months on the job.
Even though this study was unable to assess effectiveness of the OSHA fall protection standard established in 1995, the researchers concluded that the considerable number of fall fatalities from lower heights provides strong evidence of the need for the OSHA requirement that fall protection be provided at elevations of 6 feet or more.
Recently while observing a residential building project, I can understand how these statistics are not much different from what I witnessed two decades ago. I noticed there is a lot of activity across multiple trades working in small areas, with framers working on one house and roofers flying trusses next door. Across the street are more trusses, and three additional houses are having plywood laid down. The entire street of houses, maybe 15 of them, were still in the framing stage. The sound of hammers and saws filled the air, however, I didn’t see a single worker wearing any fall protection. Not one.
Despite the history of danger in residential construction, not one person was tied off to the roof. I spoke to one of the supervisors about the lack of safety and he explained that the jobs moved so quickly that they would be done by the time OSHA makes their way to the jobsite.
“Besides,” he said, “OSHA has never been out here once since we started.”
Still, today’s residential construction culture seems to favor documentation only after serious injuries and fatalities have occurred A major, alarming, factor is that residential construction employees are the least trained of all of the trades in terms of safety. Much of this stems from OSHA failing to enforce safety on residential projects, like they do commercial and industrial.
Even supervisors on residential projects often do not have the knowledge and experience that is needed when it comes to safety and fall protection. This is why falls remain the greatest threat to workers when framing and installing roofs. I have seen images from actual accidents where workers have been impaled on rebar, slipped through floor joists, and fallen into basements.
There are multiple reasons for these accidents, but lack of training and poor housekeeping are consistently leading factors. This can be fixed. Training is the greatest weapon in the war against injuries in construction.
An inexpensive option for tying off while roofing is using the Bucket Safety Kit, or Safety Bucket. These products sell for around $100.00 to $125.00, and can make a world of difference in residential construction safety.
These kits include a harness, vertical lifelines (with rope grab) and an anchor. In this case, either a temporary or permanent residential anchor will do the job. There is no reason for any worker not to protect themselves with such an affordable and easy-to-use safety product. I am proud to say that Malta Dynamics has added our own safety bucket kit to our product offering.
Unlike the last 20 years, I believe that the next 20 will bring tremendous advances in safety and protection of workers on residential construction sites. With well documented statistics validating the dangers residential construction employees face, OSHA has no choice but to start enforcing safety on residential sites. Forward-thinking residential contractors must become proactive and start training their teams from the get-go. Not only will they avoid inevitable OSHA citations, but they’ll be doing the right thing for their employees.
Ken Hebert Bio
Ken Hebert is the Co-Founder and National Sales Manager of Malta Dynamics. Customer-focused professional who has spent over 20 years marketing in the safety and training industry. For questions concerning technical safety issues or about Malta Dynamics products, Ken can be reached at email@example.com.