In July of 2023, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-California) introduced legislation to direct the Occupational Safety Hazard Administration (OSHA) to issue a uniform national heat standard to protect workers exposed to high temperatures within two years.
Register Roofing stands with other responsible contractors against implementing a blanket national standard.
The reasoning for this position comes on many fronts. First, a national standard cannot effectively account for the multiple, complex climates throughout the United States. Second, this legislation would disproportionately impact construction in warmer climates. Third, federal mandates undermine the efforts that Register Roofing and our colleagues are already making regarding heat illness. Finally, regulation creates a minimum standard that could ultimately put workers at risk in areas where commercial, general, and specialty contractors already recognize a need for hypervigilance.
OSHA Is Important
Before elaborating on our stance, we need to take a moment to express our respect for OSHA and gratitude that it exists. Contractors universally agree that safety is paramount and people are the most valuable tool in our arsenal.
Register Roofing has tremendous respect for OSHA guidelines. We educate and review them constantly. We make them the focus of our weekly company-wide safety meetings and daily job site safety briefings.
OSHA safety policies and procedures serve as a basis for dialogue between our management team and the on-roof workers who are the backbone of our business. Register Roofing constantly seeks opportunities to expand our workers’ protections, and many of our policies exceed OSHA’s minimum requirements because technology moves faster than legislation.
Opposing a federal mandate to prevent heat-related illnesses is not a statement that the government should stay out of our business and let us manage our employees however we want. It is a declaration that we understand our business better than politicians and are more than capable of taking care of our people while maintaining a productivity standard that does not put them at risk.
Logic Is Important Too
We mentioned the reasons why we believe that passage of the OSHA Heat Standard Bill is impractical and unnecessary. Here, we will take the time to elaborate.
Reason 1: A national standard cannot effectively account for the multiple, complex climates throughout the United States.
The United States is enormous. The variance between high temperatures in two different parts of the country can be 30 degrees or more. What may be “extreme” heat in one region is a part of daily life in another. People naturally acclimate to their environment and become equipped to withstand its challenges. Setting a “standard” heat index number that would halt work without considering a person’s ability to adapt to their environment is counterproductive.
If OSHA wants to get involved on this front, regional guidance would better serve the workers the organization is trying to protect. Clarifying a contractor’s responsibilities for protection against heat-related illnesses would have a more significant impact than a citation-enforced overreach that would prove challenging to apply uniformly.
Reason 2: This legislation would disproportionately impact construction in warmer climates.
While this somewhat extends our first reason, the developmental impact this could have should not be understated. Construction is a timeline business. Plans and agreements are made based on contractors’ ability to complete the work on time. Empowering something as uncontrollable as the weather to impact construction progress will ultimately limit development in warmer climates where large corporations and property developers will not want to face costly, unexpected delays in their multi-million dollar projects.
This not only impacts commercial contractors such as Register Roofing, but it also affects workers. Limiting the workable hours on a job site takes money away from skilled laborers who are paid hourly for their services. Trades are already facing decreased labor pools and increased difficulty finding quality candidates. Passage of the OSHA bill would legislate cyclical wage uncertainty into a labor market that is already struggling. Construction is currently booming in states like Florida and Texas, where this legislation would have the most impact. Workers leaving for more temperate climates where consistent hours are more likely would leave a developmental vacuum in their wake.
Reason 3: Federal mandates undermine the efforts that Register Roofing and our colleagues are already making regarding heat illness.
The very introduction of this bill in the legislature implies that Register Roofing and our peers in the construction industry are not capable or willing to take necessary precautions to protect our teams against the dangers of heat-related illness. This narrative is unequivocally false.
According to NASA, the summer of 2023 broke heat records; it was the hottest summer since global records began in 1880. Register Roofing had zero reported incidents of heat-related illness. How is this possible when our tradespeople are on the roof facing maximum exposure to the blistering hot Florida sun? Our safety teams take every available precaution to protect our people.
We monitor the weather and provide all the water, ice, and electrolytes our teams need to be effective. In daily briefings, our safety teams remind workers of the warning signs of heat-related problems and encourage them to look out for themselves and each other. We provide pop-up shade and fans that reduce temperature by 10-20 degrees to prevent overheating. Finally, we have an open dialogue with our teams to ensure there is nothing else the company can do to make them feel safe.
Register Roofing didn’t need OSHA to tell us to take these steps. We evaluated our climate, our business, and the importance of our people and took appropriate action. Our colleagues do the same. We can model and discuss behavior locally to combat this problem without federal regulation.
Reason 4: Regulation creates a minimum standard that could ultimately put workers at risk in areas where commercial, general, and specialty contractors already recognize a need for hypervigilance.
Our general fear is that whatever policies OSHA established would be an unnecessary overreach, but what if the opposite is true? What if the requirements focus on data from areas of the country where climates are less harsh and fail to protect workers to the extent that Register Roofing and others already do? While we will only change our policies to provide more extensive precautions for our teams, others may decide that bare minimum compliance is enough. The bill would then prove to be a policy win for those seeking re-election but a loss for the workers it is supposed to protect.
Another concern for unintended consequences is that placing undue focus on one specific facet of safety could distract from other areas. A contractor forced to provide cooling necessities or facing cost overruns due to project delays might make up the difference by spending less on roof safety systems or PPE. If that were to be the case, would putting a relatively limited safety issue under the microscope make a tradesperson safer?
Let Common Sense and Compromise Prevail
Contractors and tradespeople have driven exponential improvements in the focus and execution of safety policies and procedures over the last several years. A “get it done no matter what” mindset has yielded to an understanding that no time or monetary cost is too great to ensure everyone leaves the job site in the same condition they arrived.
OSHA has a powerful opportunity to recognize and reward this momentous shift. Rather than flexing its muscles and imposing penalties on contractors driven to mitigate risk, the administration should reward that mindset by providing the resources, skillsets, and training necessary to help us protect our people while literally building the American economy. Register Roofing and our responsible colleagues would welcome OSHA’s assistance but firmly oppose legislation that imposes an unwarranted strain on our industry.