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April 2011

I Know It All!

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An April Fools Day sarcasm on scaffold safety, regulations and government control.

April is the time for foolish things so I contacted the foremost authority in the field of scaffolding, Dr. Aiy Noitall.  I caught up with the good doctor while he was at O’Hare Airport in Chicago preparing to leave on another of his famous fact finding missions for the government.  Here is an excerpt from an intense 87 minute interview I had with him before he boarded his flight.

SIA:  Dr. Noitall, you are recognized as an expert in the field of scaffold safety.  How did that come about?

Dr. A. Noitall (Dr. A.N.):  Well, you know that I have been hanging around scaffolding all my life; well at least I see a lot of it so I picked up a lot of stuff that way.  Besides, since I am sponsored by the government program, I know some of the standards.

SIA: You mentioned the government program.  What program is that?

Dr. A.N.: It’s a program funded by a bipartisan quasi select government action committee on largesse.  The committee has initiated a fee on all employers who use, sell, rent or design scaffold products.  That’s how we get the funding.

SIA:  That’s odd.  As you know the Scaffold Industry Association is the “Voice of the Scaffold and Access Industry.”  We haven’t heard of this committee or the program.  And we are unaware that there is a fee; that sounds like a tax.  Who authorized this?

Dr. A.N.: Well, the government authorized it.  Trust me; just like the OSHA standards, Canadian standards and various state and provincial safety standards, this program is good for you.  I always say, you can’t have too many safety regulations.  This is how we make things safe.

SIA:  I thought it was employees and employers who make a worksite safe.

Dr. A.N.: See, that’s where you have it wrong.  Scaffold people don’t know what they are doing.  They’re out there trying to kill people.  The statistics show that.  If it weren’t for the regulations, all the scaffold people would be dead!

SIA:  Well, the SIA wouldn’t agree with that!  Let’s look at a few of those regulations.  What do you think of the rule that specifies that guardrails are required once the platform is ten feet off the ground?

Dr. A.N.: That is nonsense.  I think the height should be 10 inches.  We can’t provide enough protection for the worker.

SIA: Don’t you think the worker has a responsibility to work safely?

Dr. A.N.: Well, there is no need for the worker to worry about that safety stuff.  We want him to be focused on his work, not safety.   That’s why we need a lot of regulations.  If we can get to the point where there are so many regulations that the worker doesn’t have to think, then my job is done!

SIA:  Wow, that is quite the energetic agenda.  When do you think you’ll reach the point of enough regulations?

Dr. A.N.: My extensive research indicates that we will probably never get there. If you look at the OSHA statistics, you’ll see that scaffolding is always in the top 10 violations.  That clearly shows I still have a lot of work to do.

SIA:  Let’s take a look at another regulation.  As you know, or should know, boom-lift operators are required to have fall restraint whenever operating that equipment.  Yet, it’s easy to find operators who either don’t know or don’t care about that requirement.  How will more regulations solve that problem?

Dr. A.N.: You just don’t get it, do you?  The hazard, as you know, is being catapulted out of the boom lift.  If the worker utilizes fall restraint or fall protection how can he do his work?  It’s better to have regulations to solve the problem.  Besides, if he is hanging on, he won’t get catapulted off the platform in the first place.

SIA:  You aren’t making any sense sir.  More regulations won’t eliminate the possibility of the worker being ejected.  Please explain, if you can.

Dr. A.N.: Let me give you an example.  Scissors lifts had guardrails around them supposedly for protection against falls.  However, when the workers used the guardrails to stand on, they discovered that the guardrails wouldn’t keep them from falling.  So now we require them to use personal fall restraint or fall arrest.  See, this is how more regulations work.  I just don’t understand why you think they don’t.

SIA:  That doesn’t answer the question about ejection.  You didn’t answer my question.

Dr. A.N.:  Sure I did.  You weren’t listening.

SIA:  Whatever.  Let’s take one more example and see if you can convince me that more regulations are the answer to safety.  The OSHA standards require that a platform be “fully planked between the front uprights and the guardrail system.”  What happens if the platform is only 2 feet off the ground and there is no guardrail system?  How big should the platform be?

Dr. A.N.: I can’t believe you even bother to ask me this question.  The platform should be as big as you can make it so the worker is free to do whatever she wants.  If it’s big enough, the worker will never fall off the edge, will she?  See, that’s what I’m getting at— more is always better.  It would be foolish to think otherwise.

SIA:  Foolish indeed, Dr. Aiy Noitall.  Enjoy your flight—and good luck getting through airport security.