In September, a window washer named Lee Teske died after he fell 60 feet from the roof of a building in St. Cloud. A month later, a roofing employee fell 9 feet from a scaffold in Rochester and also died.
The cases are still under investigation, but James Krueger, director of the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MNOSHA), said an increase in fall fatalities and serious injuries has prompted his agency to increase enforcement against companies that fail to protect their employees from such accidents.
In 2013, seven Minnesotans died as a result of workplace falls, a number that has remained steady since 2009. But the number of serious injuries resulting from falls doubled in 2012, to 14 from seven.
Krueger said MNOSHA is issuing more citations to companies that are not protecting their employees as workplace safety laws require.
Under the law, construction companies, such as home and residential builders, should provide employees with a fall-protection system if they are working more than 6 feet off the ground. That could include a guard system that prevents employees from falling off an elevated site, or a fall-restraint system with a harness and anchor that catch a falling employee.
In 2013, MNOSHA issued 438 fall protection citations, up from 173 issued in 2011.
“Typically, fall protection [equipment] is easily available. You can get it for less than $100,’’ Krueger said. “A majority of companies want to comply and do that routinely to keep their employees safe,” he added.
Terry Hukriede with Adolfson and Peterson Construction said his company works with MNOSHA as a partner, and not as an adversary, to keep employees safe. “They help us ensure we do everything we can and that our workers go home to their families at night,” Hukriede said. “If we don’t do that, we fail.”
Even if the company provides the proper equipment and all the training, Hukriede said, employees sometimes don’t use their harnesses or other protective gear.
“It’s an inherent human trait that we take chances,” Hukriede said. “Sometimes a worker says, ‘I only have to go out there for one second, and I’m not going to fall.’ But that’s the guy who ends up falling.”
Two employees fell while working on the 36-story LPM apartments under construction near Loring Park, but because they were wearing harnesses, they were not seriously injured, Hukriede said.
“That would have been a very tragic event,” he said.
David Rumsey, a certified safety professional, said fall protection extends beyond the big construction sites. In recent days, Rumsey said, he has seen news reports showing workers steaming ice dams off roofs without any fall protection.
“It goes on all the time,” Rumsey said.
Rumsey says homeowners should be cautious when going on their own roofs to clear snow or re-shingle.
Home improvement stores sell fall-protection kits for less than $200 called “compliance in a bucket” and he said every homeowner should own one.
“When you let your husband or spouse on that roof, are you willing to accept that your life could forever be changed?” Rumsey said. “We don’t often think about the consequences of that when we go up because we just have to remove snow.”