Friday, June 4, 2010

Design in the safety

Needing to enlarge a Design Counseling drawing 600%, I deviated from my usual 2 mile loop walk today, substituting instead a 2.6 round tripper to FedEx Kinko's. On the return leg, rolled drawing in hand, I stopped to look at the architect's rendering, (adhered as usual to a 4' x 8' sheet of MDO plywood) at a construction site excavation. In center of the "hole" a group of men were assembling scaffolding to complete masonry work on what looked to be the foundation for the elevator and stairs core. The poured concrete basement wall was already complete, with beam pockets awaiting the next major trade, the steel erectors.

Hopefully the scaffolding erectors were extra diligent, with the knowledge that 5 men were injured recently in a scaffolding collapse in Binghamton, NY. OSHA is investigating.

Non-diligence is all too common. On earlier walks this season I followed the progress of 4 re-roofing projects. Roofing contractors have the highest Worker's Compensation Insurance rates in the construction industry. Accidents common to any trade consist of strains 'n cuts 'n scrapes or gun-nails-through-the-fingers. But roofing accidents usually consist of a high speed fall from grace. And you don't fall-down-go-boom, you fall-down-go-splat.

To catch falling workers, OSHA regulations require wearing harnesses which are snapped to safety lines tied to the building.

The disparity in professionalism was apparent on the jobs. Three of the jobs had multiple trucks with names painted on the sides and swarms of men punching the job out. Though there were visible harnesses and safety lines, not all were snapped in, at least not all the time.

The other job featured a pair of gnarly no-harness no-net no-doubt-in-my-mind-uninsured Wallendas stripping off decades of asphalt shingles, and then the original cedar shingles. They slipped their feet into the slots between the original "skip sheathing" boards, using them as ladders to move up and down the 12:12 roof (45 degrees for you civilians) to do the work of installing new sheathing, new felt, and new shingles.

I'm 55 and don't want to do that job. But if I had to do it, I have the sense to invest in 20' of 1/2" line, tie a bowline loop to slip under my arms, and tie myself off.

When dealing with heights, civilians and contractors alike need to take a moment and inspect their ladder set-ups. Shim the feet level or better yet, dig out under one side to make it level. Shims have a way of wiggling out unless you attach them. Stake the bottom. Pass a 1/2" line through windows to tie off the top of the ladder. I've ridden a ladder down before and was lucky. Don't reach out so far. Take your time. Move the ladder. But RE-level it and RE-tie it each time. If you're high up enough, and the pavement is far down enough, tie yourself off to the ladder itself.

This is good advice whether you are just doing painting or cleaning gutters around the house, building your own house or addition, or paying to have someone else do it. OSHA and Insurance are great, but it's better if no one ever gets hurt.

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