FRSA Advocates for OSHA Changes in Washington, D.C.
Trent Cotney, FRSA General Counsel, tackled the OSHA changes head on at the meeting.
On July 17, 2017, Florida Roofing & Sheet Metal Contractors Association, Inc. (FRSA) attended the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) stakeholder meeting in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the meeting was “to discuss the future direction of the agency’s Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP).” The Voluntary Protection Program is designed to provide collaboration between OSHA and an employer and is offered to those companies that have implemented a superior safety program; however, it is rarely utilized by construction companies.
In attendance were high-ranking officials from the Department of Labor, the heads of the major unions and management of many Fortune 500 companies. While many of the conversations revolved around financing the Voluntary Protection Program, Trent Cotney, General Counsel of FRSA, tackled the issues head on. During his chance to speak, Cotney discussed the need for OSHA to promote safety and not just enforcement of standards. He discussed the inherent distrust that many roofers have when dealing with OSHA given OSHA’s storied history of one-sided enforcement. In addition to discussing the role employees play in safety, Cotney also suggested that OSHA do a better job of promoting the VPP so participants can use it for marketing purposes and insurance discounts. Finally, Cotney presented FRSA’s Position Statement for the Department of Labor’s consideration – the text of which is below.
FRSA fights for its members throughout the State of Florida and beyond and is dedicated to making sure its voice is heard on all issues that affect the roofing industry!
POSITION STATEMENT OF FLORIDA ROOFING & SHEET METAL CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION, INC.
BEFORE THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION
RE: SUGGESTIONS TO STRENGTHEN THE
VOLUNTARY PROTECTION PROGRAM
JULY 17, 2017
To strengthen OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs (VPPs), Florida Roofing & Sheet Metal Contractors Association, Inc. (FRSA) and its associated members have worked together to assemble this statement outlining potential avenues for action. This statement will offer input generally and then provide several specific suggestions to strengthen the VPP.
FRSA was founded in 1922 to promote and advocate for the roofing and sheet metal industries. FRSA’s purpose is to foster and encourage a high standard of business ethics among its members and to inform the public of the importance of doing business with professional and ethical roofing companies. FRSA encourages quality through research, education, and recognition of competence. With over 800 company members, FRSA represents and acts as the voice of its membership before government and regulatory bodies and works to improve the roofing industry.
In Florida, OSHA Area Offices in Jacksonville, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale have aggressively targeted roofers. FRSA and its members recognize and promote safety; however, many FRSA members distrust the intentions of OSHA given the $143 million in fines issued by OSHA in 2016. A reoccurring theme from members is the failure of OSHA to implement suggestions from the construction industry and that OSHA fails to consider the economic and technological realities of construction. FRSA would like to work hand-in-hand with OSHA to promote a safe work place while taking into account the realities of real-world construction and employee misconduct. We believe this spirit of collaboration will help strengthen the VPP program’s use in the State of Florida by:
- enhancing and encouraging the efforts of employers and employees to identify and address workplace hazards through the VPP;
- increase participation in VPP; and
- enhance the efforts and engagement of long-term VPP participants.
Suggestions to Strengthen the Voluntary Protection Program
Collaborative, On-Site Inspection and Training:
FRSA and its associated members have the same goal as OSHA: create a safe working environment for all employees. To achieve this goal, VPP participants and OSHA could implement on-site, start-up inspections and training, followed by secondary inspections to determine the progress of safety recommendations. The purpose of these inspections would be to instruct and help employers and employees recognize safety hazards. OSHA would not issue citations for safety violations identified during these inspections for VPP employers.
The best way to teach employers and their employees of job site safety is on the job site. Through collaboration with OSHA, employers and employees would be able to work together to ensure jobsites meet OSHA standards. Follow-up inspections would allow VPP participants to gauge their progress in ensuring a safe worksite.
Not only would collaboration ensure jobsites meet OSHA standards, it would work to build a stronger relationship between OSHA, employees, and employers.
Recognition for VPP Participants:
While VPP has levels of certification, they are rarely promoted and mean little to those outside of the program. If OSHA promoted the levels of certification, roofers would gain the added benefit of using the VPP program for marketing purposes, to negotiate with insurers for lower premiums, and potentially obtain preferred bidder status on some projects.
Accordingly, OSHA should consider better promoting its own program so that the added benefits of participation are made apparent to project owners, insurers and the public.
In some cases, it is not the lack of knowledge by employers that lead to workplace injuries and fines, but rather the lack of compliance on the part of the employee. As it stands, employers are solely responsible for the penalties of a workplace injury/violation and have the option of fining their employees. However, fining an employee for failure to comply often leads to that employee quitting and seeking employment elsewhere.
If the employee had to bear some of the responsibility for workplace injuries and violations, the employee would be more likely to comply with OSHA regulations rather than ignoring them and letting the employer pay the fine. Several Canadian provinces have already adopted a system which allow the OSHA-equivalent to fine employees for safety violations thereby creating an additional incentive for employees to follow the safety training they have received.
In addition to encouraging a culture of safety, the VPP could assist in creating employer disciplinary policies that encourage employees to take responsibility for a safe working environment. FRSA believes that a successful VPP program must not only be a partnership between OSHA and the employer, but also OSHA and the employees.
The VPP has the potential to provide improved worksite safety across the nation through collaboration among the agency, employers, employees, and other participants in the program. Implementing an on-site inspection and training program would help reduce workplace hazards and foster a more trusting relationship between OSHA and the program’s participants. Recognition of efforts to reduce workplace hazards would incentivize new members to participate and better engage with long-term VPP participants. Employee responsibility would enhance and encourage the efforts of employers and workers to identify and address workplace hazards.
Trent Cotney is Florida Bar Certified in Construction Law, a member of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), General Counsel and a director of the Florida Roofing Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors Association (FRSA), General Counsel and member of the Governance Committee of the National Women in Roofing (NWIR), the Treasurer of the West Coast Roofing Contractors Association (WCRCA), and affiliated with almost a dozen other roofing associations. Trent has put together a free booklet to help with OSHA record-keeping. Click here for your free copy.
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