The Official Online Weekly Newspaper of NAHB
At an Oct. 5 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections on the challenges businesses face in complying with employee health and safety regulations, Chairman Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) urged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to reconsider its recent policy of taking a “much more punitive” stance toward employers as it strives to improve worker safety.
“It was clear from the early days of the Administration that a new sheriff was in town who intended to take a much more punitive approach to workplace safety, and who threatened to publicly shame employers,” Walberg said as he opened the hearing.
“It was tough rhetoric that made good press, but unfortunately many of us remain concerned whether it is the best approach to worker safety,” he said.
Addressing recent increases in the agency’s penalties, OSHA Administrator David Michaels said that the penalty for a serious violation capable of causing death or serious physical harm averaged about $1,000 in 2010 for large businesses and $763 for small businesses.
“Right now the average penalty for all employers is closer to $2,000, still low, but an improvement,” he said.
In written testimony for the hearing NAHB stressed the need to reform OSHA regulations and reduce compliance costs.
“NAHB believes there are a number of ways in which to make regulatory compliance more cost-effective and make OSHA more user-friendly for small businesses, while improving housing affordability and continuing to protect the safety of workers in the home building industry,” NAHB said.
For example, OSHA fall protection requirements vary widely depending upon the type of construction activity and materials involved.
The requirements currently are triggered at six feet for most residential construction activities; at 15 feet for steel erection, such as the installation of steel beams in basements; and at 10 feet for work involving scaffolding.
NAHB said that OSHA should evaluate the regulatory burdens imposed by 1926 Subpart L-Scaffolds, 1926 Subpart M-Fall Protection and 1926 Subpart R-Steel Erection, including the economic impact and feasibility of their trigger heights.
A witness representing roofing contractors testified that OSHA is not recognizing the safe use of alternative fall protection systems as a means of complying with the changes in OSHA’s enforcement of its fall protection requirements, despite a clarification in the regulations that allows the agency to do so.
OSHA will continue to work with NAHB and other stakeholders to resolve employer compliance issues with the Subpart M-Fall Protection standard.
For more information on the hearing, email Alex Strong at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8579.