If you’ve ever been shocked when an OSHA inspector arrives unannounced to inspect your rooftop fall protection methods, you’re not alone. These random checks surprise many companies. Safety officers fear the inspector will discover issues that violate OSHA’s stringent requirements. Managers wonder if the investigator will shut down their operations for job-related hazards. Chief executive officers worry their companies will pay a fine if their roofs fail inspection. It’s no fun for anyone.
Unfortunately, unexpected OSHA visits are commonplace. Many companies don’t receive any advanced warnings about upcoming audits. To make your next visit as easy as possible, it’s important to ensure your rooftop is compliant beforehand.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to prepare your roof for an OSHA inspection. We’ll teach you about the audit process and the federal compliance standards concerning fall protection systems for roofs.
Why Should Your Company Prepare for an OSHA Audit?
In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) increased its penalties for the first time since 1990. Meanwhile, the federal bureau raises its fines annually to keep up with the present inflation rate. Earlier this year, the failure to abate violation rose $319 from $12,615 to $12,934 per violation. Companies can now expect to pay $130,000 for willful and repeat violations. Here are the maximum OSHA penalties for 2018.
- Other-than-Serious: $12,934
- Serious: $12,934
- Repeat : $129,336
- Willful: $129,336
These increases apply to all federal OSHA states. State-level local occupational safety and health programs often align their penalties with these standards as well.
What Triggers an OSHA Workplace Safety Audit?
Usually, OSHA prefers to investigate complaints by faxing letters to companies to ask about potential hazards. OSHA will send an inspector to investigate your work areas for different reasons. For example, the federal agency may order an audit after a serious accident, like a fall. They can also order random inspections to ensure your workplace is safe, regardless of your history.
Here are the top seven reasons for unannounced inspections:
- Workers have submitted complaints about safety issues.
- Groups, agencies, or media companies have reported safety violations.
- Employees suffered job-related illnesses or injuries.
- An OSHA office ordered a random inspection.
- The federal agency has targeted your company for a work area audit.
- An inspector will conduct a follow-up investigation of previous violations.
Preparing for Your OSHA Assessment
OSHA reports that falls are the leading cause of job-related injuries for roofers and maintenance workers. Companies can prevent catastrophic trauma by following the federal bureau’s three basic steps: Plan, Provide, and Train. Roofing operations should use these strategies when incorporating a plan for rooftop fall protection.
Step One: Start Off with a Plan
Companies should develop a plan to ensure they have the proper equipment, materials, and trained workers. Your workplace should also know the proper pitch of your roofs:
- Low-Slope Roofs (4:12 slope or less) – “Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (b) of this section, each employee engaged in roofing activities on low-slope roofs, with unprotected sides and edges 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above lower levels shall be protected from falling by guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems, or a combination of warning line system and guardrail system, warning line system and safety net system, or warning line system and personal fall arrest system, or warning line system and safety monitoring system.” – 1926.501 (b)(10)
- Steep Roofs (above 4:12 slope) – “Each employee on a steep roof with unprotected sides and edges 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above lower levels shall be protected from falling by guardrail systems with toeboards, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.” – 1926.501 (b)(11)
OSHA also requires companies to have rescue and emergency plans for their employees:
- Rescue Plan for Workers – Your company must have a rescue plan to help workers if a medical emergency happens. For example, suspension trauma may occur when a worker isn’t saved immediately. You’ll need to provide rescue personnel, ladders, and other equipment prior to starting any job (29 CFR 1926.502(d)(20)).
- Have an Emergency Action Plan – OSHA requires companies to keep an emergency action plan (29 CFR 1926.35(e)(2)). These should include means of reporting emergencies and how to evacuate the area (29 CFR 1926.35 (b)). First-aid materials must be accessible (29 CFR 1926.50(d)(1)). Workers should always know their employer’s street address in case of an emergency, and at least one employee on site should have first-aid training. You’ll need to provide documentation to OSHA to prove that this worker has medical training (29 CFR 1926.50(c)).
Step Two: Provide the Right Safety Equipment
OSHA requires employees to receive training to ensure they comply with the federal agency’s latest standards. Additionally, companies should ensure that all their rooftop fall protection plans include safety systems to prevent fall-related accidents. These are three fall protection systems for roofs that OSHA recommends.
- Use Safety Railings – Companies should use safety railings around openings and near roof perimeters to prevent fall-related accidents. Your system’s top rails must be 39 to 45 inches above the working surface (29 CFR 1926.502(b)(1)). OSHA requires intermediate structural members (mid rails) to be installed if the area doesn’t have a parapet wall at least 21 inches high (29 CFR 1926.502(b)(2)). Safety railings should withstand a 200-pound force in any outward or downward direction within two inches of the top edge (29 CFR 1926.502(b)(3)).
- Use a Personal Fall Arrest System – OSHA recommends companies use a Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS) for any roof 6 ft. or higher. A PFAS has an anchor, a lifeline, a harness, and a lanyard, usually with a deceleration device. The system must support 5,000 pounds per worker attached. It must prevent a person from free falling more than six feet or contacting the ground. Body belts are not acceptable, because they can cause serious injury during a fall (29 CFR 1926.502(d)). The PFAS must be used correctly to be effective. Hire a professional contractor to install the system, and all workers should be trained on how to use them correctly. Harnesses must be secured with D-ring attachments centered between workers’ shoulder blades and leg straps until they fit snugly (29 CFR 1926.502(d)(16)(iii)).
- Provide a Fall Restraint System – Fall restraints can protect your employees from fall hazards. These fall protection systems for roofs prevent people from stumbling over a work area’s edge, even if they trip or slide. OSHA recommends fall restraint systems to withstand 3,000 pounds or twice the maximum force needed to prevent the employee from falling. If you use this system, you must train workers to correctly assess the right lanyard length before working. To learn more about these systems, click here.
For more information about safety devices, download OSHA’s Protecting Roofing Workers Handbook.
Step Three: Address Safety Training and Rooftop-Related Hazards
To make an inspection go smoother, companies should look for potential problems and train their staff before an OSHA inspector arrives. Here’s how:
- Perform Job Hazards Analysis – OSHA requires all companies to perform a job hazards analysis for each employee. Your company must document the work-related risks each worker faces. Additionally, you should have printed plans that address any issues.
- Safety Training – Your employees should receive regular training that adheres to federal safety standards. Your business should also have OSHA posters that describe all employees’ rights under the law. Place these posters in visible locations. OSHA offers a variety of training materials that can help.
- Conduct a Mock Inspection – Additionally, companies should perform a simulated OSHA inspection to look for issues. Remove any hazards you find, and correct any problems ahead of time. Conduct these mock inspections periodically.
Step Four: Keep Detailed Records
OSHA requires employers to record any professional training that their workers receive. This documentation will show the federal agency that you’ve complied with the law. It is the only evidence that OSHA will accept. You can simplify this record collecting process by using a construction software platform (1926.503(b)(1)).
Also, make sure you know where all your worker compensation records and insurance filings are – you’ll want to provide them to your inspector. Additionally, present any information about independent audits. If you have any safety issues identified in third-party inspections, now’s the time to correct them. OSHA will issue a willful citation if you don’t. Additionally, give the compliance officer a list of worker complaints and details about how you addressed them.
Step Five: Shadow the Compliance Officer During the Inspection
Before an OSHA compliance officer shows up at your door to inspect your rooftop fall protection systems, create an OSHA inspection media kit. This material will help your employee representative record the inspection process and take notes of what’s working — and what isn’t.
Each kit should have:
- An HD digital camera (that’s capable of filming video) to record the OSHA inspection
- Microphone Recorder
- Tape Measure
After the inspection is complete, chronical anything identified in the report and how you’ve handled them. It’s helpful to have photographs to accompany each line item.
Keep Your Company and Employees Protected
Let’s face it, no one looks forward to an OSHA inspection. Not only do they take your team away from your project, they can also be the source of some major hand wringing. With the proper prep and the right rooftop fall protection in place, however, you can avoid fines, sail through your inspection, and get your team back to work as soon as possible.