You’ve probably heard about OSHA inspections started because a compliance officer happened to be driving by a construction site and saw a potential violation. This story involves an investigation started because of a newspaper photo.
A photo on the front page of California newspaper The Press Democrat on Aug. 7, 2011, showed Santa Rosa Fire Department inspector Toby Rey checking solar panels on roofs to make sure they comply with setbacks designed to keep firefighters safe.
The problem is, Cal-OSHA didn’t think Rey was being so safe during the inspection. He was on the roof, 24 feet above ground, without any fall protection.
Cal-OSHA slapped the Santa Rose Fire Department with a $2,700 fine for a serious violation.
Rey said, “I just used my judgment and determined it was a safe roof to be on.”
Firefighters are exempt from using fall protection when extinguishing fires. But Cal-OSHA said the solar panel inspections weren’t exempt and that the rules that apply to construction workers applied to Rey.
When the department received the fine, Santa Rosa Fire Chief Mark McCormick argued fire inspectors who go up on a roof for 10 minutes should not be governed by the same rules that apply to workers who might be up there for hours at a time.
A Cal-OSHA spokesman said at the time that the idea that inspectors don’t need safety gear because they don’t spend much time on the roof misses the point: It only takes one moment and one step to fall.
The fire department appealed the fine, and now, months later, it’s been settled.
Cal-OSHA reduced the serious citation to a general one and lowered the fine to $300.
The fire department now agrees that its inspectors will wear the required gear in the future, according to Chief McCormick.
Santa Rosa building inspectors have since taken over the job of inspecting new solar panels.