by Bill Taylor, CSP
Principal Safety Scientist

A roofer was inspecting along the edge of a roof three stories above the ground in preparation for replacing damaged shingles. His foot slipped and, having no fall protection, he fell to the concrete sidewalk below sustaining fatal head injuries. The ensuing OSHA investigation resulted in no citations because there had been no violation committed.

The duty to require fall protection (1910.28) does not apply, “When employers are inspecting, investigating, or assessing workplace conditions or work to be performed prior to the start of work or after all work has been completed.”

“Well, that makes no sense!” one might say. It doesn’t have to make sense; it’s simply the rules.

Many employers have recognized that OSHA standards do not always go far enough to keep workers safe. As a result, many will go beyond the standards in an effort to provide the needed protection for their workers. The problem is that often, these well-intentioned employers will actually make work harder, and possibly more dangerous, because of their actions. Case in point is the employer who, in their zealous efforts to protect the worker, will require workers to tie off at the four-foot level or higher under all circumstances…including while using portable ladders.

191028 does not apply when using portable ladders. If a worker is told to use personal fall protection when using a portable ladder, sooner or later, the worker will encounter a situation in which he/she will be forced to violate the company policy because there is no anchorage anywhere near the work area. Or, in an effort to comply with the rule and save his or her job, he or she may tie off to something that does not meet the minimum requirements for an anchor point, e.g. a guard rail or electrical conduit.   

Or worse, the worker may tie off to something he/she feels is a substantial anchorage such as a water pipe. Now the worker, while working from the ladder, has a false sense of security and may actually take risks he/she would not otherwise have taken. This is called the Peltzman Effect.

The Peltzman Effect occurs when someone employs a safety measure such as a helmet while riding a motorcycle or a personal fall protection system while working at heights. The theory is the user of the safety devices will be less careful feeling they have protection that may or may not be adequate.    

Is it safer using personal fall protection while working from a portable ladder? Yes. People fall from ladders. But it is not always practical. Employers must assess the risks and determine if they are acceptable or not and then provide workable solutions as needed. Sometimes training is the best solution, especially when the rules don’t make sense.

Bill Taylor, CSP serves as a Principal Safety Scientist with The EI Group, Inc. and has over 40 years in the safety industry. If your facility is in need of OSHA compliance consulting, please do not hesitate to contact him at ( 919) 459-5249 or btaylor@ei1com.