Tuesday, April 13, 2010

With Fall Protection Safety: CAVEAT EMPTOR!

This story is one repeated over and over again. We've seen it many times.
Now we've decided to write about it. This is a very serious situation. Buyer
Recently we visited a Class A office building in Florida on invitation of

the new management company on behalf of the owners, to review the
installation of an anchor system that another supplier had installed. The
previous management company hired the other supplier because their bid was
the lowest. Seems like they fulfilled their fiduciary duty to the owner of
the building and to the users of the fall protection system, right?
What we found was an incomplete system with every single anchor point
installed in a hazard zone. Each anchor point was attached to the parapet
walls all the way around the building. There were over a hundred anchors.
The parapet walls were only about 24" tall, significantly under the 42"
guardrail height as defined by OSHA. The building was about 80' tall -
clearly any fall would be fatal.
Furthermore, there was no state licensed professional engineer stamped and
sealed shop drawing accompanying this system. There was no owner's manual,
no inspection log book, and no installation sign-off sheet. This meant the
system was never certified. As such, it should not be used by anyone for any
Window cleaners have been using the anchors. They usually do not know
whether an anchor system is truly certified - they use whatever they see on
the roof that has the appearance of strength. If they were tasked to provide
a qualified plan of access and safety plan, they would have identified that
the system was insufficient and refused to perform the work.
Their problem is, they make no money and some other window cleaning company
that is less safe, that is the lower bidder, would get the work anyway.
Exacerbating this situation is that the lower bidder here probably has
equipment that isn't well maintained and documented, and their workers may
not be well trained.
Back to the building, there was no evidence that the parapet walls which
were precast panels (PCP) were able to withstand the loading that such
anchor points would place on them, when used for suspended work via rope
descent system or powered platforms. There were no other "certified,
visible" anchor points anywhere on the roof of the building.
Before and during installation, how could a supplier safely install such
anchors inside the hazard zone when there were no certified tie-off points
anywhere on the building that are outside the hazard zone? After
installation, how could anyone approach any of the anchors in order to use
them, without violating any OSHA regulations?
So what happened? In spite of other bids at higher prices that would have
ameliorated such issues, the low bidder won the work based on the buyer not
knowing how to differentiate a quality system from a sub-par system. The low
bidder sold an insufficient system and left no clear documentation, and they
got paid for it.
This left the building owner and the building manager liable should an
accident occur - thus, the liability and potential of millions in losses is
still there, and the buyer paid moneys for a system that accomplished very
little. The Return on Investment (ROI) of the low bidder was actually
negative. The buyer must now pay for a re-certification and to have
additional anchor points installed.
Furthermore, if OSHA were to visit the building, there would be several
citations for walking and working surfaces and other violations, because of
the severity of the danger and the likelihood that many people have been
exposed to the dangers repeatedly. The citations would probably add up to
multiple $100,000's.
The moral of the story? Buyer Beware! You get what you pay for. You must
carefully review each bid and plan and make sure your fall protection system
is complete.