March 21, 2011
Nation's Building News

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Home Builders Institute
Following Safety Regulations Can Prevent Construction Site Injuries
photo
A worker demonstrates the correct attachment of his body harness to his fall protection mechanism.

By Sergio Salmeron

This article is an edited translation of the first of a series of articles for El Nuevo Constructor.

It was eight in the morning and a team of workers, many of them Latinos, approached a scaffolding where the builder would give the instructions of the day. There were nearly 50  builders, carpenters, welders; strong yet serene shining at dawn with their yellow helmets. Among them was Juan Ignacio Robelo, better known as “Juancho” — a young 32-year-old Salvadoran who had immigrated to Dallas with his two brothers, now co-workers.

The eldest of the Robelos, Juancho was always up on ladders, scaffolding and roofs. He loved heights and knew his trade well — including safety issues. Three years earlier, Juancho received a crash course on safety through the Office of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA).

It was the start of a beautiful day, making what was about to happen all the more tragic.

That morning Juancho slipped from the roof, and the impact of his fall broke the anchor clamp of his worn harness. He fell four floors — so fast that others hardly heard his screams. Upon regaining consciousness, his nightmare began. His spine suffered more than 20 fractures, and a cerebral hemorrhage left him permanently paralyzed. He never walked again.

For the preparation of this article, the Robelo brothers agreed to a phone interview and shared many stories and emotions from the accident four years earlier. And they asked me to give my readers an important message: "Safety is a double-edged sword, and if you fall, danger is on both sides."

In other words, the the construction site can be a potentially dangerous place and caution alone may not be enough to avoid an accident. Always follow the existing safety regulations to protect yourself; they could save your life or your brother’s life.

One construction worker dies as the result of a fall from a residential roof almost every week, according to OSHA. A disporportionate number of those deaths — one-third — are Latino workers, who often lack access to safety information and protections because they do not read or speak English. Many, many more suffer life-altering injuries. It can happen to anyone, so it is worth educating yourself on the safety standards for falls established by the U.S. Department of Labor and OSHA.

Starting on June 16, residential construction workers will have to comply with additional regulations and standards, particularly in the area of ​​the prevention of falls.

The problem is that to understand all the mandatory OSHA standards, the contractor needs to read the regulations on the prevention of falls, then the provisional regulatory rules, and, on top of that, find the more than 25 letters of interpretation issued by the agency —a confusing maze.

This is a difficult undertaking, even for safety specialists whose job it is to interpret and enforce the law. Fortunately there are many resources available to contractors, many of which are free, and the best are also available in Spanish:

To conclude this article — the first of four in which I also will talk about trenches, electrocutions and power tools — I want to share an initiative that is special to me and in which I'm investing all my passion and time.

It is the National Hispanic Outreach Initiative of the Home Builders Institute (HBI). During the next two years, our plan is to visit various cities across the country to carry out educational campaigns for Latino construction workers. The most important part of this initiative is to teach English for construction and safety standards, making use of modern but simple technology.

I invite you to visit our website (seddesaberconstruction.com) to learn more and participate in this important cause. You can also call 800-795-7955 x8912 or e-mail me at ssalmeron@hbi.org.

There are many things you can do to save lives and prevent accidents like Juancho’s. But you can’t just stand by and wait for someone else to act.

Sergio Salmeron is the director of Hispanic affairs and national sales manager for the Home Builders Institute. His main role is to lead a national campaign to educate Latino workers in construction. Through the vast network of NAHB’s state and local home builders associations and local contractors, Salmeron and his team are obtaining private and public sector support to organize events, courses, business meetings, talks with government agencies and even a play entitled "Hearts of Gold." They are utilizing innovative methods such as the performing arts, electronic books for learning English, and also radio and television advertisements.

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