Monday, February 25, 2008



Since my last blog was on the subject of fires, I thought it might be a good time to add a blog on fire extinguishers, as we use them in the roofing industry. It is also good information for the homeowner to use when selecting the proper fire extinguisher for home use.

As the Safety Manger for several roofing companies, I visit job sites and the various shops and offices and do safety inspections. One of the most important things I look for is the presence of fire extinguishers. Though fires are not considered to be a major threat, we do work with flames and other heat sources as tools that have the potential to ignite and we work with numerous materials that may be good fuels for fires. A fire at the job site or at the shop and offices could be extremely costly.

On the job site, we require at least one fire extinguisher on the roof and, if hot asphalt kettles are employed, at least one on the ground for use by the kettle operator. Every work vehicle is also required to have a fire extinguisher. In the shops, we require fire extinguishers in the mechanic’s garage, within easy access in the material storage bays, and within easy access in our offices. As Mark T. Conroy points out in his chapter of the Fire Protection Handbook, “Fire Extinguisher Use and Maintenance,” the choice of an extinguisher “depends on the nature of the fuels present, who will be using the extinguisher, and the environment.”

Fires are divided into 4 types or classes for extinguishing purposes; A, B C, and D. Because of the nature of a particular type of fire, a particular type of extinguishing agent is required to suppress it effectively and safely. Class-A-rated fire extinguishers are designed to extinguish ordinary fires fueled by wood and other cellulosic materials. They typically use water, loaded stream, aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), or film-foaming fluoroprotein foam (FFFP) as extinguishing agents, but can also use dry chemicals or halogen.

Class B fires are fueled by flammable liquids and are extinguished by extinguishers using carbon dioxide, dry chemicals, FFFP, AFFF, and Halogen agents. Portable B-class-extinguishers, however, are only effective on relatively small flammable liquid fires because of the intense heat and smoke generated by larger fires of 10 square feet or more.

Class-C-rated fire extinguishers are employed for electrically generated fires. Class C agents include carbon dioxide, dry chemicals, or halogen. Be cause of the potential of electrical shock or electrocution, water and aqueous foams are not used as class C agents.

Class-D-rated fire extinguishers are used to extinguish fires fueled by combustible metals. Special dry powder is used to extinguish class D fires.

It is important that the potential user of a portable fire extinguisher be competent in its use. The users should be trained in their use. Many portable extinguishers will spend its entire agent within 8 to 15 seconds, so accuracy is needed. Experimentation is not an option in a crisis situation.

Most fires are extinguished by cooling and/or smothering. For example, “water is effective as a cooling agent because of its high latent heat of evaporation…When the heat loss exceeds the fire heat gain, the fuel surface will begin to cool until the flame can no longer exist at the surface” Water also has the capacity to emulsify and dilute fire fuels.

Carbon dioxide is not as good an agent for cooling a fire as water, but it is effective in smothering it. Carbon dioxide replaces the oxygen in the atmosphere that the fire needs to sustain itself. However, carbon dioxide has little effect on fuels such as cellulose nitrate, which contains its own oxygen supply. Another draw back with carbon dioxide is the fact that in a small, unventilated area, the oxygen supply of the extinguisher user is also depleted.

Dry chemicals provide both cooling and smother elements for fire extinguishment but also add an extra dimension. “When introduced directly to the fire area,” writes David R. Hague, “dry chemicals cause extinguishment almost at once. Smothering, cooling, and radiation shielding contribute to the extinguishing efficiency of dry chemical, but studies suggest that a chain-breaking reaction in the flame is the principal cause of extinguishment.”

In the roofing business, we use only dry chemical fire extinguishers with an ABC-class-rating, the most practical type since the potential fuels on the job site are many. We use hot asphalt, asphalt-saturated rolled materials, modified bitumen materials, rubber roofing, flammable glues and cleaning solutions, gasoline, propane, and wood fiber and foam insulations. D class fires are extremely unlikely in the roofing industry.

Inspection, maintenance, and practical location of fire extinguishers are necessary for fire safety. We inspect our extinguishers regularly—I check to see that all are charged and in place as part of my safety inspections—and send them out for maintenance and to be recharged as they are used—if the extinguishers are used in the field, the vehicle units are used as backups—so we always have fire extinguishers in working order. We also use dry powder from a bucket as a backup for hot-kettle operations.

In the shops and offices, we also use ABC class extinguishers, and we station our fire extinguishers in locations where they are easy to reach, within 75 feet of any place on the premises. We store the same materials in the warehouse and shop that we use in the field, and though the variety of potential fuels for fire is much less in the office environment, for the sake practicality we use the same ABC class extinguishers.

Though fire has not been a historically serious problem for us in our roofing businesses, it remains potential hazard that must not be ignored. So, as long as I am the safety manager, we will continue to be prepared. We will understand the volatile nature of the materials we use, control our environment, and make sure that we have the appropriate and maintained fire extinguishers for the job and the trained personnel to abate the potential hazards.


Convoy, Mark T., “Fire Extinguisher Use and Maintenance,” Fire Protection
Handbook 18th ed., Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Protection Association.
Hague, David R., “Dry Chemical Agents and Application Systems,” Fire Protection
Handbook 18th ed., Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Protection Association.
Petersen, Marshall E., “The Role of Extinguishers in Fire Protection,” Fire Protection
Handbook 18th ed., Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Protection Association.
Wahl, Andrew, M., “Water and Water Additives for Fire Fighting,” Fire Protection
Handbook 18th ed., Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Protection Association.
Wysocki, Thomas J., “Carbon Dioxide and Application Systems,” Fire Protection
Handbook 18th ed., Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Protection Association.

Friday, February 22, 2008



Home Fires
A few years ago while in Topeka, Kansas, I drove past the address where my childhood home once stood. I say, “once stood” because it is only a vacant lot now, with the lonely garage that my father built remaining as the only indication that a house had been there. I understand that the house burned down over a score of years ago--Abe Lincoln would be proud of my word usage--because of a faulty heater. Luckily, the family that lived there then was not at home at the time and was unharmed. On the other hand, perhaps, if they had been at home and been warned of the beginning fire by a fire detection device, they might have been able react fast enough to contact the fire department and save some of their valuable belongings. As it was, they lost everything that was in the house at the time. This brought to mind the safety in my own home, the lives of my family and our many irreplaceable possessions. Am I prepared? Have I done enough to safeguard my home from possible fire? Have I kept Al Gore away from my home?

This type of drama, like the destruction of my childhood home, is enacted many times each year in America, and I am possitive that manmade global warming is not responsible. A home fire is the disaster that a child will be most likely to experience during childhood and some of these may have deadly results. Fire fatality ranks fifth in accidental death in America, and is the primary cause of death for children at home. Twenty-five percent of fire fatalities will result from burns, while seventy percent will die from breathing poisonous gases—carbon monoxide is produced in any fire—or asphyxiation. In 2000, NFPA reports that 368,000 homes burned in America, resulting in 3,420 deaths, 16,975 injuries and $5.5 million in direct property damages. Fortunately, things have been getting better. Home deaths have fallen by 34% since 1980. Statistics gathered between 1994 and 1998 show that half of all fire fatalities happen between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. while only a quarter of all fires occur during the same hours.

This suggests that undetected fires are much more likely to cause death. According to the NFPA, smoking was the leading cause of home fire deaths overall—alcohol consumption may also be a contributing factor here. However, during January, February, and December, the peak months for home fires, heating equipment caused as many fires as smoking did. It is noteworthy that fires in homes where smoke alarms had been installed caused only 20% of the home deaths between 1989 and 1998. Of course, in some cases the smoke alarms may not have operated, as they should have, due to faulty maintenance or installation. Also, victims may have been unable to respond to working smoke alarms due to heavy sleeping or unconsciousness due to the abuse of drugs or alcohol. If so, more lives might have been saved through proper smoke alarm installation and maintenance.

Fire Sources
Cooking related fires are the leading cause of home fires. The kitchen is the place where 3 of every 10 fires start. In 1998, cooking accidents resulted in 94,000 fires, 396 deaths, 4,650 injuries, and $419 million in property damages. The leading cause of these cooking fires was unattended cooking.

In the event of a kitchen fire, care must be taken to not panic. Burners on stoves and ovens and hood fans should be turned off immediately. A large lid can be used to smother a small fire and, if a dry-chemical fire extinguisher is not available, a large amount of table salt can be thrown on the fire. Water, which could cause a fire to flare, should never be used to extinguish a grease fire. If clothes catch fire, water may be used to extinguish the fire or the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” method may be used. Clearly, if the fire is not quickly extinguished, the fire department should be called immediately.

While cooking equipment is the leading cause of home fires overall, heating equipment is a close second and is the leading cause of home fires through the winter months and is usually much more deadly. There were 49,200 heating equipment related home fires in 1998, causing 388 deaths, 1,445 injuries, and $515 million in property damages. These fires, like the one that destroyed my childhood home, may have been avoidable if the proper precautions had been taken.

Outdated furnace equipment is a serious fire hazard. A typical gas fueled wall furnace that was often used in small two-bedroom tract homes built in the 1940s and 1950s homes had heated my childhood home. The Fire Protection Handbook describes them as:
…self-contained indirect-fired gas or oil heaters installed in or on the wall. They supply heated air directly to the space to be heated, either by gravity [as in our case] or a fan through grills on openings or boots in the casing by the
manufacturer. The furnaces may be of the direct-vent type or are vent-or-
chimney-connected, depending on the fuel. Limit controls limit outlet air
temperature. The fire problems with recessed wall furnaces [as in our case] are
similar to those encountered with most warm air furnaces.
Wall furnaces like other warm-air heating furnaces can become hot enough to ignite surrounding woodwork or other combustible materials due to inadequate clearances and the lack of efficient limit controls. Such furnaces require proper installation, servicing, and maintenance. Any source of heat has the potential to cause a fire under the right circumstances. Wood and other combustible materials can possibly ignite at temperatures well below their normal ignition temperatures if they are continually exposed to even moderate temperatures.

Seemingly, the most dangerous home heating equipment is space heaters. Of all the heating related fires, devices other than central heating systems cause two of every three. Seventy-five percent of all heating equipment related deaths were caused by space heating equipment. Because of improper use or faulty installation, gas-fueled, kerosene-fueled, and electric space heaters and wood stoves and fireplaces can be very hazardous. Because they have the highest rate of deaths associated to their misuse, portable kerosene heaters are illegal in Massachusetts. Often, fires occur when they are not cleaned regularly, placed too close to combustible materials, or improperly fueled.

Space heaters obviously need space to operate safely. Normally, space heaters need at least three feet clearance from combustible materials and should be turned off when room occupants are sleeping. Portable kerosene heaters may be especially troublesome. They are not typically connected to a chimney and, because of their portability, they are often used in inappropriate places and fueled with inappropriate fuels. Gasoline use in a kerosene heater can produce flammable vapors.

Also responsible for some home heating fires are chimneys for fireplaces and wood burning stoves. According to David S. Johnson, the greatest hazards due to chimneys are: operator error or ignorance; control failure; improper installation; use of a defective appliance; ignition of combustible soot or creosote deposits in the chimney; serious cracks or internal collapse of the masonry; defective construction; and failure to secure joints of factory-built products.

To eliminate such hazards, construction of masonry fireplaces and chimneys must strictly follow building codes and factory-built systems must be installed according to factory specifications and directions, using only approved materials. For example, eighteen inches of air space is typically required between single-wall connector vent or chimney pipes and walls or other combustibles and two inches airspace with insulated chimneys and combustibles. Fireplace screens should always be used and periodic inspections and maintenance of chimneys are also necessary to keep chimneys free of hazards, such as creosote build-up.

Children are the subjects of some very sad fire statistics. Children represent 20% of all fire fatalities. Children are responsible for over 100,000 fires every year of which 20,000 are set in the home. It is estimated that the children themselves set 30% of fires that kill children. Eight hundred children under the age of ten die in-home fires every year. In the home, children will play with lighters, matches, and other ignitable tools while hiding in closets or under beds. Parents should search such hiding places for evidence of fire play and children must be taught that fire is a tool that must not be played with.

Fueling the Flame
If fires do occur due to aforementioned ignition sources, they require combustible materials (fuel) to build and spread the flames. The possible fuels for a home fire are many: wood framing and surfaces of the structure, furniture and furnishings, clothing, and books and paper articles. Wood products in a home, because of their cellulosic content and relatively low moisture content (10 to 12 %), are very combustible if subjected to enough heat for a long enough time. At temperatures between 392 and 536 degrees Fahrenheit, the majority of the water content of wood has been expelled. By the time most wood has been heated to 932 degrees Fahrenheit, a state of ignition has occurred. Some types of wood take longer to ignite than others. Tests show that firs and hemlocks take roughly twice as long to ignite (30.8 minutes) as long leaf pine (14.3 minutes) when subjected to a pilot flame at 356 degrees Fahrenheit. However, at 752 degrees Fahrenheit, all woods tested ignited within 3 to 5 seconds. Obviously, some woods are safer from fire than others, but only under less extreme heat exposure.

Fibers and textiles are the major components in clothing, furniture (apart from wood), and many furnishings. Cotton, a plant fiber, is perhaps the most common natural fiber in use in textile manufacturing and ordinarily ignites at 725 degrees Fahrenheit. Protein based fibers from animals, such as silk and wool, react differently to fire because of their chemical makeup. Wool is more difficult to ignite and burns much slower than cotton. Man-made fibers, either regenerated and reconstituted or synthetic, react still differently. Rayon, a regenerated fiber, chars and burns like cotton, while acetate, a combination of cellulose and acetic acid, melts before burning like thermoplastics such as nylon and polyester.

According to research consultant Salvatore A. Chimes, between 1989 and 1993, 99,600 structure fires were reported in the United States where textiles were the materials that were first ignited, with 1,699 deaths and $974.6 million in property damage. In those fires, 1/3 of the materials were in the form of mattresses, bedding, or pillows. Nearly 18% of the materials first ignited were in the form of clothing and nearly 15% were upholstered furniture. Bedding, clothing, and upholstery were involved in nearly 87% of the deaths and 71% of the property damage. Cotton, rayon, or cotton-polyester blends were types of material first ignited in 57.5% of those fires resulting in 53.7% of the deaths and 50.5% of the property damage. Manufactured fabrics were involved in 36.1% of the fires, 41.7% of the deaths and 43.6% of the property damage. Wool, silk, and other animal fibers were involved in just over 5% of the fires and less than 5% of the deaths and property damages. This would leave one to believe that natural animal fibers are much safer but, obviously, such fibers are possibly not as popular a material for use in mattresses, bedding, pillows, clothing, and upholstery as cotton and the man-made fabrics.

Controlling the Fires
Measures can be taken to reduce the likelihood of a fire spreading quickly, allowing occupants more time to respond positively to home fires. As explained, home furnishings and decorations are often constructed of cellulosic materials and thus very combustible, but can be treated to be fire-retardant or flame-resistant. James R Shaw says that fire-retardation is accomplished by treating materials in a way that reduces thermal buildup by increasing thermal conductivity and dissipating the heat of combustion, by increasing thermal absorption to reduce the amount of heat available for pyrolysis, and/or providing thermal insulation to reduce heat’s access to the material. Fire-retardant treatments are performed in several ways: by chemical change (especially effective with plastics and synthetic fibers); impregnation, soaking materials in a water-based flame retardant solution (effective with wood products); pressure impregnation, replacing air in materials by the flame-retardant solution under pressure (more effective with wood products); and by coating non-absorbent materials with chemicals, altering the surface’s combustibility.

The proper storage of flammable and combustible liquids and good housekeeping are practical ways of reducing fire hazards. Gasoline, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be kept in metal safety cans out of living quarters where fumes will not accumulate, and away from ignition sources. Clutter in and out of doors can be fire hazards for the home. John T. Higgins’ thoughts about the hazards of poor housekeeping in the workplace also apply to the home:
Poor housekeeping contributes to loss potential by increasing fire and
explosion hazards in several ways:
It provides more places for a fire to start.
1. It creates a greater continuity of combustion, which makes it easier for fire to spread.
2. It provides greater combustible loading for the initial fire to feed on.
3. It creates the potential for flash fire or dust explosions when layers of lint or dust are allowed to accumulate.
4. It allows spills or drips of flammable or combustible liquids to accumulate, which could catch fire (including spontaneous ignition in some cases).
5. When not properly addressed, friction, static, or electrical connections can be sources of ignition.
6. Poorly controlled smoking policies can lead to a source of ignition.
7. It increases the potential for spontaneous combustion.
Care must be taken to eliminate collections of dust and lint, to cleanup spills and accumulation of oil and grease, dispose of rubbish (wasted paper, cardboard, rags, leaves, and empty plastic and metal containers) in proper receptacles. Waste products may need to be segregated. Different chemicals combined in trash receptacles may explode. Tall grass and weeds must be cut short or eliminated along the sides of the home. And smoking and smoking materials should be eliminated or closely monitored in the home.

Fire Detection
However, even with serious efforts to eliminate them through design, maintenance, rigorous housekeeping, and inspections, fire hazards may still go undetected and fires may occur. The next line of defense against fire loss in the home is necessarily fire detection and alarm. With early enough detection, the risk of injury, death, and property damage may be greatly reduced. Thus, we must turn our attention back to smoke alarms.

Smoke detection and alarm systems have been an important tool to save lives during the past half-century. We have had smoke alarm technology since the 1960s and the battery-powered alarms have been available to us since the 1970s. By the mid 1980s, thirty-eight states and municipalities had passed laws requiring smoke alarms to be installed in new and existing homes and residences. By 1995, ninety-three percent of all American homes of all descriptions were equipped with smoke detectors.

A concerted effort in recent years by the National Fire Protection Association and other fire safety-minded organizations to educate people to the effectiveness of smoke alarms in saving lives seems to have paid off. NFPA statistics show that 94% of homes in America have at least one smoke detector and that one half of all deaths occur in the 6% of homes without smoke detectors. But again, in three of every ten fires that happen in homes with smoke detectors, the detectors do not work properly. In most cases they fail to work because of missing or dead batteries.

Heat detectors, according to Wayne D. Moore, are the oldest type of fire detection devices in use, being developed along with sprinkler systems as early as the 1860s. Such systems are designed to both detect and extinguish fires. Heat sensing devices are also employed in fire detection alone, some that are triggered to react at fixed temperatures and others that are triggered by an unusually rapid increase of room temperature. Still other detection systems use both types of temperature-sensing devices to trigger a fire alarm.

However, smoke detectors are the most popular for use in the home and the most effective for saving lives in home fires because of the dangerous effects of smoke on the human body. Many people killed in fires are likely dead or incapacitated because of the effects of smoke long before flames or heat would likely trigger heat or flame sensing devices. Of the deadly effects of smoke, Gordon E. Hartzell writes:
The thermal effects of decomposition or combustion of every combustible
material or product produces a smoke atmosphere that is toxic. In sufficiently high concentrations, these smoke atmospheres present hazardous conditions to exposed humans. Predominant among the hazards are impaired vision due to eye irritation, narcosis from inhalation of asphyxiants, and irritation of the upper and/ or lower respiratory tracts. These effects, often occurring simultaneously in a fire, contribute to the physical incapacitation, loss of motor coordination, faulty judgment, disorientation, restricted vision, and panic. The resulting delay or prevention of escape my lead to the subsequent injury or death from further inhalation of toxic gases and/or the suffering of thermal burns. Survivors from a fire also may experience postexposure pulmonary (lung) complications that can lead to delayed death. When one considers the immediate hazard that smoke presents, smoke detectors seem to be the logical choice for home fire detection.

Fire Suppression
If a fires is detected in time, one may be able to extinguish it, but one must know what to safely do and have the right tools to do it with. Since automatic sprinkler systems may not be practicable in the home, hand-held portable fire extinguishers are a good choice for fighting a fire in its first stages. Portable fire extinguishers are designed for specific types of fire, so it is important know the nature of likely fuels in the home. Fire extinguishers are divided into 4 classes: A, B, C, and D.

Class-A-rated fire extinguishers are designed for ordinary fires fed by wood and other cellulous materials. Water and other aqueous foams or liquids are the agents used in class-A-extinguishers. Class-B-rated extinguishers are designed for flammable liquid fueled fires. Carbon dioxide, dry chemicals, or halogen are the agents used to suppress class-B fires. Class-C-fires are electrical and are suppressed by similar agents as class-B, but water is not used because of the hazard of electrocution. Class-D-fires are combustible metal fires and special dry chemicals are the agents used to suppress them. A safe choice for a portable fire extinguisher in the home is one that is rated for A, B, and C class fires together. Portable fire extinguishers are easy to operate. One must aim at the fire and its fuel, and spray, holding the trigger mechanism open until the fire is extinguished or the suppressing agent is completely spent. If the fire is beyond suppression with a portable fire extinguisher at that point, get out of the home immediately and notify the local fire department. Rely on professionals to do the job.

If such measures had been followed in years past, my childhood home might have still been there when I drove by today. And, if such fire prevention and detection measures are followed more strictly today, we will continue to see reductions in home fires in America with fewer fatalities, injuries, and property damage. And more importantly for me, if I am diligent in my own efforts to make my own home safer, by eliminating fire hazards: keeping an orderly home; storing flammable liquids and combustible materials properly; replacing old furniture, old furnishings, and worn siding and shingles with furniture and materials treated with fire retardants; inspecting and maintaining our fire places and chimneys properly; testing and maintaining our smoke detectors properly; and having an effective fire escape plan for my family, I will be much less likely to drive—if, I am alive and able to drive—by my current address on some future date and find an empty space where my home had been. I will, in essence, be helping to keep the home fires from burning.


Chobin, Salvatore A., “Fibers and Textiles,” Fire Protection Handbook,18th ed.
Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Association, 1997.

Chobin, John M., “Wood and Wood-based Products,” Fire Protection Handbook,18th ed.
Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Association, 1997.

Conroy, Mark T., “Fire Extinguisher Use and Maintenance,” Fire Protection
Handbook,18th ed. Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Association, 1997.

Hartzell, Gordon E., “Combustion Products and Their Effects on Life Safety,”
Fire Protection Handbook,18th ed. Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Association, 1997.
Higgins, John T., “Housekeeping Practices,” Fire Protection Handbook,18th ed. Quincy,
Massachusetts, National Fire Association, 1997.

Johnson, David S., “Heating Systems and Appliances,” Fire Protection Handbook, 18th ed.
Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Association, 1997.

Morse, Wayne D., “Automatic Fire Detectors,” Fire Protection Handbook, 18th ed. Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Association, 1997.

Shaw, James R., “Fire-retardant and Flame-resistant Treatments of Cellulosic Materials,”
Fire Protection Handbook, 18th ed. Quincy, Massachusetts, National Fire Association, 1997.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I am currently employed as a safety manager for a couple roofing companies in the State of Utah. I have worked in and around the roofing industry for almost 40 years as a laborer, journeyman, foreman, and business owner, with and without OSHA as a participator in my efforts. Obviously, the Occupational Safety and Health Agencies are now a crucial part of my job these days and I have evaluated the agency’s worth. Like most people in my business, I think, I have some conflicted feelings about it. The following essay, which was published in Professional Safety a few years ago, reflects my thoughts on the subject.

OSHA, To The Rescue

Early in 1970, I was in my last year of high school in northeastern Kansas. My father was a foreman for a commercial roofing company in our hometown. When I came home from school one afternoon, I met my father at the door and he sadly informed me that my good friend, a schoolmate who had recently quit school to work on my father’s crew, had had a serious accident at work. My father thought that he was probably dead on arrival at the hospital. Happily, my father was wrong. My friend, Rod, survived and eventually recovered enough to work again and have a happy and productive family life. He was fortunate to survive his injuries, but the pain and suffering that he and his family endured might easily have been avoided.

The accident had occurred on Rod’s very first day at work. He was understandably excited and nervous and he was anxious to do a good job. There was no training program for roofers for that company in 1970, a roofer was expected to learn on the job. He was most likely warned by his foreman to be careful. The owner of the company happened to be visiting the job-site that day, so Rod was eager to show that he was a good worker. Rod was more worried about the proximity of the “boss” than he was about the proximity of the open skylight hole that he was working near. Rod unknowingly backed into the hole while moving a heavy wheelbarrow full of gravel.

His fellow workers did not see or hear him fall but, when they noticed Rod’s unmanned wheelbarrow sitting next to the hole with it’s handles positioned over the hole a few moments later, they feared the worst. They found his motionless body in a pool of blood with teeth scattered around him on the concrete sub-floor of the future high school gym below. Apparently, Rod had been knocked unconscious by the impact of the edge of the roof to his jaw as his body passed through the sky light opening. The impact broke his jaw on both sides injuring both ears and knocking most of his teeth out. His limp body then fell to the hard surface more than forty feet below, where his right arm and knee were shattered by the impact. To those that witnessed the aftermath, it was miraculous that he survived.

The medical know-how of 1970—plastic and re-constructive surgery and a year of physical rehabilitation—put my friend, Rod, back into the social and working worlds, but our society and the American work-place of 1970 had let him down. But, that same year, 1970, Congress passed and President Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Act to “assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources” (US Department of Labor. All About OSHA, 1998, p.1). Although the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Agency the following year did not alleviate any of my friend’s pain and suffering, it would work towards lessening the likelihood of similar accidents in the years to follow and would save lives.

In the years before OSHA, workplace injuries and fatalities were common place. As David Goetsch explains in his textbook, Occupational Safety and Health, “in 1907 over 3,200 people were killed in mining accidents” alone (2002, 4th ed., p. 1). Nineteenth-century American government and public opinion largely ignored worker safety, siding with management, but early in the twentieth century, opinions began to change. Political activist writers such as Upton Sinclair with his 1906 novel, The Jungle, brought to light some of the many dangers—primarily in the meatpacking industry of Chicago—that existed in the big industrial work places of America and management’s seeming indifference.
Progressive political leaders, such as Theodore Roosevelt—he had been at odds with the laissez-faire philosophy embedded at Harvard since his college years—also recognized the need for legislation and governmental assistance to protect American workers and began the movement that culminated in the Occupational Safety and Health Act that President Nixon signed into law. President Roosevelt read Sinclair’s book and though he had little sympathy for Sinclair’s socialist politics, he felt obliged for moral reasons to launch an investigation into the conditions Sinclair described (Brands, 1997, p. 548-49). Though the agricultural bill that resulted mainly provided for federal inspection of meat, work conditions were also improved. Early in his presidency, Roosevelt recognized that government would have to act for the public good:

Wage-workers must be protected from overweening corporations by government regulation…Women and children of the working class must be further safeguarded by special legislation forbidding excessive hours or unhealthy conditions (p. 426).

But, Roosevelt continued to push for safer labor conditions in America after he left office in 1909. In his bid for reelection in 1912 as a third-party candidate, Roosevelt “urged the passage of the workman’s occupation act, laws regulating labor by women and children, and the establishment of practical job training for students not bound for higher education” (p. 676).

In the New York Times following the infamous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City, the headlines read, “141 MEN AND GIRLS DIE IN WAIST FACTORY FIRE; TRAPPED HIGH IN WASHINGTON PLACE BUILDING; STREET STREWN BODIES; PILES OF DEAD INSIDE” (Boyer, 1996, p.699). The Triangle fired showed that industrial America was a dangerous place. Too few escape routes—doors were locked to keep workers from wandering from their work stations—and a distance of eight floors to the ground left people the choice of either burning to death or jumping to a relatively quick death.

Attention to workplace safety during most of the 20th century was primarily driven by the labor unions. For most laborers, hours were long and hazardous. Though there had been movements as early as the 1800s for an 8-hour week, the average worker in 1900 labored for 9 and 1/2 hours with some industries requiring 12 or 13-hour days. Statistics show that large numbers of children were included. In 1900, over 18% of America’s children were employed (p.705). Pressure by the unions, in the form of labor strikes and the support of progressive politicians like Roosevelt eventually brought about real change:
By 1907, despite some employers’ claims that abolishing child labor would produce “a nation of sissies,” some thirty states had done just that. A 1903 Oregon law limited women in industry to a ten-hour workday. Other reformers concentrated on industrial safety, welfare programs, and disability benefits for workers injured on the job…By 1914 twenty-five states had passed laws making employers liable for job-related injuries or death (p.712).

The federal Government would later produced a series of important laws following the state’s lead. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson was asked to arbitrate labor agreements between railroads and the labor unions. Wilson suggested the introduction of an 8-hour workday; the union agreed, but management was unwilling to accept it. Wilson then took the matter into his own hands, asking congress to write federal law to introduce the 8-hour workday. The president signed the Adamson Act, the legislation which he had requested, into law (Nordholt, 1991, p. 192-3). He also promoted and signed into law the Keeting-Owen Act, barring from interstate commerce products made through child labor and the Workman's Compensation Act, providing accident and injury protection for federal employees (Boyer, p.730).

But, the federal government was slow to legislate wholesale change in the workplace. Throughout the thirties and forties, America’s labor force depended more and more on the unions to look out for their safety and welfare in the workplace. Between 1933 to 1946, labor union membership grew from just under 3 million to nearly 15 million (p. 841). Union membership continued to grow with the population, reaching 20.1 percent of wage and salary earners in 1983, but has since decreased steadily. In 2002, only 13.2 percent of wage and salary workers were members of unions (BLS, p.1). Perhaps, OSHA is one of the reasons why. With the advent of OSHA, the labor union was no longer the premier entity concerned about the welfare of America’s workforce.

In 1970, when Congress was developing the Occupational Safety and Health Act, politicians considered that 14,000 workers were dying because of workplace hazards, 2.5 million workers were being disabled, and 300,000 new cases of occupational diseases were being reported yearly (Goetsch, p. 53). Of these statistics, David Goetsch writes:
Clearly, a comprehensive, uniform law was needed to help reduce the incidence of work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. The OSH act of 1970 addressed this need. It is contained in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 1900 through 1910. The act also establishes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor and is responsible for administering the OSH act (p. 53).

Goetsch goes on to explain that foremost in OHSA's mission and purpose was to encourage employers and employees to reduce hazards in the workplace; to implement new safety and health programs; to encourage research into ways to improve workplace safety, establish training programs, to establish mandatory workplace standards; and to monitor job-related illnesses and injuries by reporting and record keeping (p. 54).

Statistics seem to show that OSHA has been worthwhile. According to OSHA Facts, from the U.S. Department of Labor, on-the-job deaths have been cut in half since the agency was created in 1971, with on-the-job deaths declining 2 percent in 2000. Also, workplace injuries and illnesses have declined by 40 percent over the past 30 years, with workplace injury and illness hitting a new low of 6.1 per 100 workers in 2000 ( P.1).

Perhaps, nowhere is OHSA's influence needed and felt more than in the construction industry. Typically, the construction industry supplies the largest percentage (21 percent in 2001) of the total occupational fatality statistics. In 2001, the construction industry nation-wide suffered 1,225 fatalities in the work place, of which 34.4 % were caused by falls—falls being second only to highway accidents in labor related deaths—and 18.1 % were caused by contact with objects and equipment (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-1 p. 2). One hundred and sixteen of those fatalities were in the roofing and related industries, with 67.2 % of the deaths related to falls and only 4.3 % of the deaths caused by contact with objects or equipment (p.3). Clearly, a roofer is much more likely to die as a result of a fall than any other roofing related work place accident and is obviously more susceptible to a fall related death than the rest of the construction industry.

The OSHA standards that focus on the most hazardous elements of the roofing industry concern fall protection. Though roofers are also in danger of being burnt, cut, or struck by objects or equipment, the danger of falling is more likely to result in disability or death. In Sub part M-Fall Protection, C.F.R. 1926.500, of OHSA's construction industry regulations, OSHA lays out the scope, application, and definitions applicable to fall protection. IN 1926.501, OSHA declares the duty of the employer to provide fall protection. And, in 1926.502, OSHA describes fall protection systems and practices. Guardrail systems, Safety net systems, and personal fall arrest systems are strongly encouraged, but warning line systems, controlled access zones, and safety monitoring systems are acceptable under the right circumstances. All holes, 2 inches or larger, must be covered and secured in place by materials that can support twice the weight of any person or piece of machinery that might pass over them and must be marked “hole” or “cover” (29 CFR OSHA 1926 Construction Industry Regulations, 2002, p. 301-18).

Such precautions, if instituted, would undoubtedly make the work-site a safer place. But, the problem has been, and continues to be in some cases, how to get the contractors to comply with OHSA's safety standards. Clearly, the for-mentioned standards may require sizable expenditures in equipment and man-hours to follow. In some cases, extra employees might be needed to meet monitoring needs. Because of competition and the desire to keep business costs low, some contractors have tried to avoid complying with OSHA standards.

OSHA has tried to improve compliance by inspections, with the threat of strict penalties for noncompliance, and by consulting with and educating small and large businesses concerning their legal responsibilities. In 2001, OSHA conducted 35,778 inspections. Also, in 2001, OSHA consultants made more than 27,000 visits to small employers and provided more than 260,000 workers and employers with safety and health training. With President Bush’s projected budget of $437 million for OSHA for 2003, OSHA is expected to continue with its priorities: “leadership; strong, effective and fair enforcement; outreach; training and compliance assistance” (OSHA FACTS, p. 1).

Even with a $443 million budget, OSHA will not be, and cannot be, everywhere all of the time. Obviously, the most visible companies will get most of OHSA's attention and many at-risk-businesses will go unnoticed and workers will be needlessly put at risk of injury or death. Some critics argue that OSHA is too bureaucratic and insensitive to the needs of employers. Others complain that OSHA can be timid and reluctant to follow up when citations have been issued.

But, the tide continues to turn in the direction of universal compliance, with more and more companies recognizing the cost effectiveness, as well as the ethical value of working to protect the safety and health of their employees. Providing a safe and healthy workplace is one of the best ways of holding down worker compensation and insurance costs. Workplace accidents alone cost $48 billion in a typical year in America (Goetsch, p.19). Medical expenses for accidents are $24 billion and wages lost to American families are $38 billion in a typical year (p. 20). The National Safety Council estimates that, as a result of accidents, 35,000 work hours are lost every year, not including additional time off for medical checkups after employees return to work (p.22). Clearly, companies are wise to comply with OSHA standards to save money, beyond the cost of paying stiff penalties for OSHA safety violations.

More and more companies have learned, with the advent of OSHA and progressive business thinking, competitiveness requires companies to strive for Safety in the workplace. Of this Goetsch wrote:
Safety and health contribute to competitiveness in the following ways: (a) by
helping companies attract and keep the best people; (b) by allowing
employees to focus on peak performance without being distracted by
concerns for their safety; (c) by freeing money that can be re-invested
in technology updates; and (d) by protecting the corporate image (p. 22)

To help themselves achieve a greater level of competition, many companies are going beyond simply obeying OSHA standards and trying to avoid costly citations, by hiring their own safety and health managers and developing company safety plans with rules that, in some cases, are more stringent than federal regulations.

Thirty years later, I found myself working as the Safety Manager for the same company that my friend Rod worked for in 1970 when he fell and was seriously injured. Such a position as Safety Manager or Safety Director did not exist in this roofing company in 1970, but a progressive thinking new owner, early in the year 2000, wanted to bring the company into the 21st Century. He believed that a good quality-minded roofing company could become even better by making safety an equal partner with production, providing a safe environment for all of its employees. Thirty years later, the company’s safety program complied with OHSA's guidance and standards for the construction industry on fall protection. All new employees received training in fall protection and other general safety procedures peculiar to the roofing industry. Weekly safety toolbox talks, with timely retraining concerning fall protection, helped to keep safety a primary focus. In 2000 we used safety monitors, guardrails, warning lines, and hole covers, as the job may require, to protect our employees from a possible fall.

A new employee working for that company in 2000 did not face the same dangers that my friend, Rod, faced in 1970. The OSH act and the existence of OSHA over the past three and a half decades have created the atmosphere and changes of attitudes of both management and employees in the majority of the construction industry that has allowed safety to be a serious part of the business.

Clearly, OSHA’s influence has changed the face of the construction industry, especially in the major communities where OSHA inspectors are high profile and heavy fines are a real concern. Even in the more remote parts of the country, where employers are literally out of the sight of OSHA inspectors, construction companies are making concessions to safety. If the old adage, that what you do when no one can see you proves one’s character, is true, the general movement by the industry to comply with OSHA safety standards suggests that the industry’s character is changing for the better. It seems clear that, although compliance is obviously not universal, the trend of safety and health improvement in America’s workplaces will continue. Clearly, OSHA has made an impact. It has clearly saved lives and changed the way American industries think and do business.


Boyer, P. S., Clark, C. E. Jr., Kett, J. F., Harvard, S., Woloch, N. (1996).
The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. Lexington,
Mass. Toronto: D.C. Heath and Company.
Brands, W. W. (1997). TR, The Last Romantic. New York, New York: Basic
Goetsch, David L. (2002). Occupational Safety and Health. Upper Saddle River,
New Jersey, Columbus, Ohio: Prentice Hall.
29 CFR 1926 OSHA Construction Industry Regulations. (2002) Davenport,
Iowa: Mancom.
Nordholt, Jan Willem Schulte. (1991). Woodrow Wilson: A Life for World
Peace. Berkley, Los Angeles, Oxford England: University of California Press.
United States Department of Labor. (2003). Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Washington D.C. : U.S. Department of Labor. (
United States Department of Labor. (2003). OSHA Facts. Wasington D.C.:
U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administraton. (

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Romney and The Mormon Thing Again

I am sorry to say that my prediction of Mitt Romney having an uphill road to the White House due to his religious faith seems to be coming true. The Super Tuesday results tell the tale. Romney did not do as well as he likely needed to. McCain or Huckabee got what they needed or did better than expected. You can argue that it is Mitt’s seemingly late arrival to conservative positions that worries people, or that he seems plastic, too perfect, too rich for people to warm up to, or that he is too negative in his campaigning, as Michael Medved would say, that makes him unattractive to voters. However, I think that all of the above are good excuses—perhaps not good, but convenient—to rationalize not voting for the guy who is the most successful financial genius to ever run for the office of President of the United States and who holds more of the traditional conservative positions than any of the current Republican candidates. I am afraid the truth is that there is just enough religious bigotry in the Republican Party to keep the man, who I think is the most qualified, from being President.

I do not think you can use Romney’s “late change” to conservatism as an argument against him when McCain is taking positions on the recent tax cuts that he did not have when he voted against them a few years ago. His excuse for voting against the tax cuts has changed since his vote—he originally stated that it favored the rich too much, which is a liberal argument, if I ever heard one. Now he jumps through hoops to explain that it was only because he wanted it to be tied to budget cuts that he opposed them. Tough budget cuts would have been great, but his statements clearly show that he is not a believer in, or does not understand, Reagan’s supply side economics. And as for negative campaigning, McCain has been much nastier—and I must say more removed from the truth—in his attacks on Romney. Much to their chagrin, Romney has, in my opinion, accurately pointed out the other guys’ positions and their shortcomings in comparison to his strengths. Clearly, people can make bad choices because of misinformation or because they have not seriously investigated before making a decision, but this seems to me to be a huge disconnect.

There seems to be a lot of animus towards Romney from his opponents, as is demonstrated by the West Virginia convention votes where Romney won the first round and the McCain campaign admonished their West Virginia supporters to switch their vote to Huckabee to prevent a Romney win. It appears to me that that the fix may be in—Huckabee will help McCain to eliminate Romney and secure the VP position on the Republican ticket. I am sure there is an element of jealousy by his opponents because of Mitts all-around success and looks, etc. and, he is very straight forward in his criticism—as Glenn Beck says, "he does not play the game”—but, it seems that there has to be more to it than that. I think it is that and his religious faith.

There is no doubt in my mind that Huckabee is bigoted against Mormons. His comment in an interview about Romney’s faith being Christian, “I don’t know, don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers?”, was to me a dead give away. My experience, as a Baptist convert to Mormonism, with Baptist opposition to my faith and their tactics, including the Jesus and Satan being brothers-charade, leave me no other choice. McCain is also a Baptist, as I understand it, so it is possible, if not likely, that he has some anti-Mormon sentiment. However, McCain generally gets angry and vindictive towards criticism of any kind, so it may just be that he hates Romney because Mitt dared criticize him.

Clearly, I do not believe that all Baptists or other evangelicals will not vote for a Mormon. Many obviously have. It is just difficult for me to see that someone with Romney’s qualifications and positions, which are more in line with conservative thought, should be rejected by so much of the Republican electorate. I have to conclude that Romney’s faith is still a major reason.

Having said that, it occurs to me that Romney’s political stock will grow in four years, if, he can do as Reagan did and become a spokesman for the conservative point of view and hone an effective image and message. It is likely that conditions will be such, especially if the democrats take the White House, or if McCain wins and reneges on his promises to defend conservative principles, that people will turn to a conservative savior. I do not doubt that liberal governance will send us in to serious economic difficulties and expose us to more terrorism. So, there may be a silver lining. We can only hope.

I just learned from the radio that Mitt has dropped out. It is sad for me and many others that saw him as a great leader at this important time in history. I read his speech--it was a great one, and very well received by the crowd in attendance--and I am convinced, as I stated above, that his stock will be much better in 4 years. If he follows Reagan's example and becomes the spokesman for conservative ideals, he will be hard to be denied in 4 to 8 years.