The Great Safety Chasm

For several years now, I have been conducting OSHA 30-hourand 10-hour classes in construction and general industry at Greenville Tech. I love teaching those classes because of the variety of students who attend. It has also helped me to see that there is a huge, Grand Canyon divide in construction safety. On one side is residential construction, and on the other side commercial and industrial construction.

It doesn’t take long to distinguish who is on which side of this huge chasm. For instance, when I speak about OSHA regulations, someone may respond that their company goes above and beyond those requirements and follows best Practices. When I mention that OSHA requires hard hats if there is a risk of getting hit on the head, they respond “Our company requires hard hats at all times.” When I mention that scissor lifts fall under the scaffold regulation and that, because they have rails, harnesses are not required. They reply, “we are always required to wear fall protection any time we are on a scissor lift.”

When I hear comments like that, I know that the work is commercial or industrial construction. They work for a large company who has dedicated considerable funds to a solid safety program. These companies typically have lucrative contracts and are required to maintain a healthy safety record in order to be able to submit contract bids.

Now when I begin speaking about OSHA regulation, and some start to complain that it seems excessive or expensive to enact, I know they work on the other side of the divide. When I discuss fall protection, they often complain that subcontractors won’t cooperate and if you push it, they will leave and and work somewhere else. I bring up wet cutting to keep silica dust down; they are upset with cost and regulation. I tell them not to carry material up a ladder. They respond that it isn’t a realistic requirement.

All of this indicates I am dealing with residential construction. They often have limited funds and make due with whatever tools they must to complete the job. They often cut corners and hire subs who cut many safety corners.

When I speak about safety to commercial contractors, I preach to the choir. I focus more on best practices and ensure value to their employees. Often, they feel that an OSHA class is a downgrade from what they are already doing.

On the other hand, for residential contractors, I must dedicate more time proving the value of safety. I must show the cost in dollars and lives for ignoring it. I concentrate more on workers’ comp cost and OSHA fines. I share many true stories of people’s lives forever changed by one tragic accident.  I am challenged to make them think and touch their hearts!

I love this challenge and it helps me to see where my focus can influence real change and save lives! The next objective is to discover how to meet in person with more residential contractors!

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