Employee safety is a responsibility of all of us- employers, employees, and even the regulators. We are puzzled as to why OSHA fails to enforce its existing rules  on fixed ladders  to protect the safety of Communication Tower Workers and Wind Generator Workers.

1910.1053 (a)(19) could have saved these lives
1910.1053 (a)(19) could have saved these lives

Four communications tower related deaths have already occurred in 2014 according to OSHA, and more were killed in 2013 than in the prior two years combined.
“Every one of them was preventable“- OSHA March 4 Quick Takes.
“We are very concerned about this sharp rise,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels in a Feb. 25 message delivered to the National Association of Tower Erectors. “The fatality rate in this industry is extraordinarily high—tower workers are perhaps 25 times more likely to die on the job than the average American worker.”
OSHA Press Release
In my problem solving practice, I ask three questions to get our remediation steps off in the right direction:

  • Is there a process?
  • Is it being followed?
  • Is it effective?

Lets see how this can be used to frame the 21 needless tower deaths  in the U.S from 2011-2013.
Is there a process? (In the OSHA case at hand, this might better be framed as “Is there a regulation that addresses this?”)
Is there a regulation?
YES! OSHA has a fixed ladder regulation on the books: 1926.1053(a)(19)

    • 1926.1053(a)(19): Where the total length of a climb equals or exceeds 24 feet (7.3 m), fixed ladders shall be equipped with one of the following:
    •  1926.1053(a)(19)(i): Ladder safety devices; or
    • 1926.1053(a)(19)(ii): Self-retracting lifelines, and rest platforms at intervals not to exceed 150 feet (45.7 m); or
    • 1926.1053(a)(19)(iii): A cage or well, and multiple ladder sections, each ladder section not to exceed 50 feet (15.2 m) in length. Ladder sections shall be offset from adjacent sections, and landing platforms shall be provided at maximum intervals of 50 feet (15.2 m).

Is the regulation being followed?
Great question. How many of the tower deaths involved workers working on ladders that were in compliance with 1926.1053(a)(19) (i) (ii)(iii)?
Is this regulation effective?
Not if it isn’t being enforced.
Safety of the people and processes under our authority is our greatest responsibility.

  • Why aren’t the fixed ladders on Communications Towers and  Wind Generators held to the same fixed ladder safety requirements as those in general industry?
  • Why doesn’t OSHA use the existing rules on the books to stop the death toll in this industry?

This doesn’t require new technology. Just enforcement of the existing proven effective regulation already on the books.
When I testified at OSHA last month I was asked, “Why does industry always come in against rules? Why doesn’t industry come in and say that they are for rules?”
I think all of us are for OSHA using its existing enforcement authority to assure that everyone abides by the demonstrated effective ladder safety requirements of 1926.1053 (a)(19)(i-iii).
I am certain that there are 21 families out there who would ask why their loved one wasn’t entitled to the same fixed ladder protections as everyone else in general industry seems to be.
Why doesn’t OSHA enforce 1926.1053(a) (19) (i-iii)?

Dennis Kaplan commented on Linked In about our Pedestal Grinder post from last week.

Like all critical thinkers, he reframed the question from “Why did it fail?” to “Why do we hold users accountable instead of certifying equipment like the Germans do?”

I have to admire his thinking- if the reason for OSHA is to make workplaces safer, why not start with a safe equipment certification program, rather than trying to ‘enforce’ compliance in hundreds of thousands of shops?

Thanks for sharing your thinking Dennis. Folks, here is Dennis’ response on PMPA LinkedIn group.

” Miles, I think it is even sadder that we can purchase items that are not OSHA safe to begin with.
Larger companies can afford to have a safety engineer.

“I think it isn’t fair to make a small machine shop responsible to keep up with all the regulations OSHA and other entities come up with. How do you expect a small shop with one owner and 1-2 employees to keep up with all the regulations. One day one solvent is okay next day it isn’t, but you can still purchase the stuff that isn’t okay to use. Even worst with equipment, you can buy a bench grinder, and then you still have to figure out how to make it OSHA safe. What’s up with that?

“The Germans have TÜV. Nothing can be sold in Germany that doesn’t pass TÜV. You buy something, you know it will pass all the regulations, all you have to do is keep the safety up.

“I have seen shops locked down because a manual milling machine didn’t have enough safety. Yet if you put all the safety they require on to the machine you wont be able to set the machine up, or make any parts. Who makes these rules anyway?
I think it is way more important to train the people in safety then making your machines idiot safe.”

Thanks again Dennis. We appreciate your sense making.

Guest post  from James Pryor, ASH,Inc.
OSHA is boldly going on a mission to add Musculo Skeletal Disorders (MSD) Column to the OSHA 300 log.

To seek out new ways to enforce

What does this mean to your company?
OSHA has been entertaining a regulatory approach to ergonomic issues since 2001 when Congress rescinded it’s original ergonomic rules (Senate Joint Resolution 6).
Currently, OSHA relies on the General Duty Clause for its enforcement,  which obliges employers to ensure their workplaces are free from recognized hazards.
It is the recognized hazards language that seems a bit broad. If these hazards are recognized, why aren’t they codified? In a form acceptable to, lets say, Congress?
In the absence of actually developing a workable MSD standard, OSHA has a new strategy of making employers specifically track these as a category, thus making them ‘recognizable’ as well as to provide data for future rulemaking and to target for current enforcement.
As shop owners, what can we do to meet our responsibilities to ourselves, our employees, and our requirements under the OSH act?
Here are some points to consider as you deal with this emerging frontier of MSD/ Ergonomic issues at your facility:
1. Listen to your employees-they are your best defense against MSD. Employees are the local expert. Get their commitment and ownership in establishing your shop as a safe shop, free from hazards and unsafe practices. OSHA may penalize employers, but safety is everybodies job. Get your local experts involved! 
2. Engineer out the problem. Our shops are masters of process engineering. If any one can find a way, it is us. We don’t need anyone to beam down to tell us how to do it safer. 


Engineer it out…

3. Most MSD type injuries in precision machine shops may be related to proper lifting. Until someone invents an economical tractor beam technology for us to use in our shops,  here are  a few tips to aid in the reduction of these  types of  injuries:        


  • Size up the load
  • Seek alternatives
  •  Inspect the object to be lifted
  • When lifting remember to Place, Turn and Kneel
  • Always lift with the legs  

 While the nuances of what needs to be posted  on the OSHA 300 log  are still being worked out, now is a great time to revisit your shops slips, falls, and lifting training.