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Congressional debate focuses on roofing falls, construction safety

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) underscored the intensity of a recent congressional debate centered on construction accident issues when he pointedly asked a colleague who fervently opposes a new OSHA proposal that would put beefed-up restrictions on residential roofers this question: "Have you ever fallen off a roof?"

For years, the benchmark safety standard for employees of construction companies and homebuilders who are working on roofs has been bracketed "slide' guards" -- pieces of wood intended to stop workers from sliding off slopes and falling from elevations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") says that such a precaution is too meager and will no longer suffice to protect builders from legal liability in the event that a worker falls from a roof. The agency is seeking enactment of a new rule that will require all roofers working more than six feet off the ground to wear protective harnesses.

The debate on Capitol Hill proceeds along mostly partisan lines, with many Democrats backing up OSHA head David Michaels, who calls the proposed rule "vitally important," and a succession of Republicans voicing opposition.

Objections center predominantly on the projected cost that will be passed along to homeowners if such a rule passes and what critics lambast as "the future cost of doing business" in the construction industry.

Michaels responds that those concerns are overstated.

""Obviously, its' going to raise some costs," he says, "but it's going to save some lives."

Related Resource: Huffington Post, "Falling off roofs becomes unlikely focus of OSHA regulatory debate" October 17, 2011

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