WatchSonoma Watch

OSHA, Santa Rosa in flap over fine for firefighter

Santa Rosa fire inspector Toby Rey, right, measures the placement of solar panels on a new home as Sunpower construction manager Jason Mueller, watches in this August 2011 photo. CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/PD


Santa Rosa fire inspector Toby Rey has spent a lot of time on roofs.

From the age of 16, he worked as a rough frame carpenter, dangling high above the ground as he pounded nails into trusses and rafters.

During his 22 years as a firefighter, Rey also has scrambled across his share of roofs, some of them burning.

And as an inspector in the city’s fire marshal’s office for the past six years, one of his jobs has been to ensure solar panels on roofs comply with setbacks designed to keep firefighters safe.

So in early August, when Rey briefly inspected solar panels on a home under construction near the fairgrounds, he didn’t bother wearing safety equipment.

“I just used my judgment and determined it was a safe roof to be on,” Rey said.

But local Cal-OSHA officials, who enforce workplace safety laws in the state, saw something different – a serious safety hazard. And last month they slapped the Santa Rosa Fire Department with a $2,700 fine.

The investigation was launched when Cal-OSHA spotted a photo of Rey on the roof on the front page of The Press Democrat on Aug. 7. The story highlighted the friction between solar panel installers and fire inspectors over new fire codes for placement of solar panels.

But Cal-OSHA officials said Rey had failed to use “fall protection measures” while atop the roof, which they said was 24 feet off the ground.

When firefighters fight fires, they are exempt from Cal-OSHA rules regarding heights and other risk inherent in doing their jobs, said Dean Frye, a Cal-OSHA spokesman. But inspections fall under the same requirements that apply to anyone doing construction.

In this case, a harness or other fall protection measure has to be worn by employees “whose work exposes them to falling in excess of 7 & ½ feet from the perimeter of a structure” or other unprotected edges or steep slopes, according to the code.

Rey said he knows what kinds of roof surfaces to avoid, and noted he did not go on a tile roof that same day because of the risk of slipping, he said.

“My position is I didn’t do anything wrong, and right now the battle is between my managers and OSHA,” Rey said.

The city is contesting the fine. It claims the state’s rules are unclear and not evenly enforced. An informal hearing between city and OSHA officials to resolve the case took place Wednesday afternoon. The city can appeal the fine to the full board and to the courts, if it chooses.

The last time the city was fined by Cal-OSHA was 2003, when the public works department was cited $450 for allowing workers to ride on a flat-bed vehicle. The fire department has had no such fines since 2001, the earliest year searchable by the state’s online database.

Santa Rosa Fire Chief Mark McCormick said he’s concerned because the rules do not appear to be widely enforced or even known.

“I’m not aware of other any other fire agency or building department in the state that that requires fall protection be in place for their inspectors when they go to do an inspection,” McCormick said.

Federal OSHA requirements have exemptions for inspectors, but California, which is one of the states that opts to impose stricter safety standards, does not, McCormick said. State law contains no exemptions for inspections of roof construction, but there is an exemption for inspections of skylights, McCormick said.

“It seems like it’s not real clear and there’s somewhat of a discrepancy,” McCormick said.

He also argued that fire inspectors who go up on a roof for perhaps 10 minutes should not be governed by the same rules that apply to workers who might be up there for hours at a time.

Fryer said he was surprised to hear a fire chief claim ignorance of what he said were widely known worker safety rules.

“It is the law and it is very well known to those who do any kind of work on structures above the ground,” Fryer said.

He said he was unaware of any exemption for skylight inspectors, but said the notion that inspectors don’t need safety gear because their time on roofs is brief misses the point.

“It only takes one step to go over the side,” Fryer said.

23 Responses to “OSHA, Santa Rosa in flap over fine for firefighter”

  1. Em Five says:

    I don’t know about whether or not a fire inspector needs to wear a safety harness to inspect solar panels, or if the OSHA fine was petty, or not. However, I find the idea of a fire inspector, who has probably issued many tickets for “minor” safety violations to outraged citizens, being cited for a “minor” safety violation….delicious poetic justice. What goes around, comes around.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  2. Steveguy says:

    I have only been on roofs hundreds of times.

    Maybe hire only those that can walk upon roofs ?

    What is next ? A permit to clean your gutters ? YES

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  3. brown act jack says:

    Why would the fire department want to inspect the solar panels? you don’t know?

    the solar panels are a hazard to firemen when the fireman has to go to the roof!

    You can not shut of the electrical power from a solar panel if the sun is shining, and there are specific things that have to be considered where the fireman is subject to electrical shock.

    The building inpectors do not have the knowledge of what is in the fire code, as they are concerned with the building codes.

    Two different codes, completely.

    Now you might think that the inspectors could learn the fire code in addition to the codes, but there is a limit to the amount of information that an inspector can remember.

    Look at the codes themselves.

    I was a Senior Appraiser with the State of California, and I can assure you that even after the city building inspector, and the Fha inspectors have inspected the house, and after the state inspector inspected the house, I could go in and still find violations of the various codes.

    A solar electric panel can kill you just as easy as a high voltage line can. Especially the large arrays shown on roofs now-a-days.

    More power to the fire department for attempting to protect their employees from improper installation of solar electric panels.

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  4. Roof Guy says:

    Roofers do NOT need to be “tied off” except in certain situations.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

  5. Loc3 says:

    OSHA has to draw the line somewhere people! The firefighter should have known better then to get up there with a newspaper photographer on site. Pay the fine and set a better example stfd.

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  6. srgem says:

    The setbacks required in PV array installations are part of the Fire Code, not the Building Code. The Fire inspectors enforce Fire Code. SRFD saw this as a way to raise revenue, by charging customers for the plan check and the inspections, after putting the requirements in the Fire Code. Check the PD article back in August or September when the announcement was made that the Building inspectors will be allowed to check what the Fire inspectors checked. This change was agreed to by SRFD after complaints from the PV array industry. Bye bye revenue for SRFD.

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  7. Money Grubber says:


    If you are referring to the following within the article, “…one of his jobs has been to ensure solar panels on roofs comply with setbacks designed to keep firefighters safe.”

    That is NOT answering the question as to WHY firemen are playing building inspector.

    Building inspectors enforce codes. Real firemen (not paper pushing self glorifying bureaucrats) extinguish fires.

    Your attempted claim is typical for a bureaucrat who sees no problem at all in creating an unnecessary and duplicative task for the sole purpose of padding the public employee payroll list.

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  8. Money Grubber says:

    John stated, “You will see that the CA State Fire Marshal led this project.”

    Yet notice that “John,” a public employee, does not explain the answer of WHY ?

    WHY, John?

    WHY would fire department staff of county or state level be “inspecting” the installs of solar panels?

    And, of course, WHY do the fire staff feel that they are exempt from OSHA rules and regs when mere “un-educated” civilians are coerced to comply through government threats of monetary fines?

    As for your comment about my “opinions,” thats the way our country is operated, John. By the decisions of the VOTERS. And voter decisions are based upon voter opinions. So sorry for your attitude.

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  9. Frank says:

    where was OSHA when the workers installed the panals, you know the workers were not tied off, even those that reroof your house need to be tied off under OSHA rules and Regs
    you need to be tied off, even on a ladder,, but OSHA only goes after the unions not others

    eating thier own, and we ( taxpayer ) put up with it

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  10. Nothing better to do says:

    Why is a firefighter on a roof inspecting solar panels? I am afraid the answer is that they have nothing better to do.

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  11. John says:

    @ Money Grubber –
    Nobody will answer those questions for you because they are simple to those that actually do research rather than just blurt out opinions.

    The answers to your questions can be found by looking up “California PV Installation Requirements”. You will see that the CA State Fire Marshal led this project.

    I believe the answer to your last question can be found in the article itself.

    Educate youself…..

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  12. Steveguy says:

    Walking on a roof is now illegal. $2,700 fine..

    Wow, umm, we had to convince my grandpa at 80 to not climb the ladder and do roof work on his place anymore.

    When does the idiocy coming from our ‘servants’ going to stop ?

    Occupy and toss out the GOVERNMENT !! They have caused and allowed all of this clap-trap !

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  13. Money Grubber says:

    Fed Up:

    I agree that the job of inspecting installs is not the job of the fire department but the building inspector.

    I would like to see a follow up article on just why this happened.

    WHY is the fire department performing solar install inspections?

    And WHO in the fire department is the one refusing to acknowledge fault? The only description was some fire department “manager.”

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  14. Fed Up says:

    Why is a firefighter up on a roof not on fire inspecting solar panels for a building code violation?

    Not only do these phoney tax right off solar panels look like crap, but now they “endanger” firefighters.

    If they need to be inspected on private homes, instead of banned as a scam, a building inspector should be doing the job.

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 6

  15. Jim says:

    Sweet…one corrupt, useless government agency fining the overpaid fire department. Doesn’t matter. The idiots can’t see the big picture. The fire department will pay the fine with taxpayer money. The taxpayers pay OSHA to do the inspection. So the taxpayers got ripped twice in this situation. More fleecing of the people. No mention of that in the article.

    Not even the fire department can keep the immense rules and regulations straight. I’m surprised people are not fined for breathing incorrectly in this country.

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  16. Average Joe says:

    This is a good example of public safety entities taking on roles outside of their scope.

    Why in world would the Fire department carry out simple set back inspections? That is the job of the building inspector.

    These things are best left to the professionals and not overseen by “unaware” leadership. Roof falls are the #1 cause of permanent injury and death among the building industry.

    Nothing against firemen but a good example of more bravado than brains.

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 4

  17. Dan Delgado says:

    Just great! Two more public entities fighting with one another while the taxpayers get stuck with the bill. A pox on both their houses.

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 5

  18. Canthisbe says:

    “The city is contesting the fine. It claims the state’s rules are unclear and not evenly enforced”.

    “Santa Rosa Fire Chief Mark McCormick said he’s concerned because the rules do not appear to be widely enforced or even known”.

    Heh, try those two defenses the next time the City tickets you.

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 3

  19. John Bly says:

    Sorry firefighters. After working 27 years in the construction industry and being a safety manager for several of those, everyone is aware OSHA can, and has, assessed fines from newspaper photos for clear violations. Pay the fine and move on.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 7

  20. Dddd says:

    Rules are rules, now quit Crying and pay the fine. Oh I forgot, fire fighters have a sense of entitlement

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 9

  21. Money Grubber says:

    Rather than having the courage to admit fault, the firemen and his managers choose to fight the fine and cost the taxpayers even more in public employee wages and costs.

    Classic. Typical. Government fighting government = job security at our expense.

    And, of course, the end result will be that nobody is at fault despite the OSHA regulation violation.

    Just an FYI : private sector employers literally fear this kind of trouble due to the expense involved.

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  22. John says:

    Sorry OSHA, from my view of the pictures neither of thoe roofs look steeper than a 6:12 and you law states steeper than 7:12. The Fire Dept should go back to those roofs get an angle (use a simple smartphone app) and prove the rise:run. Case closed!

    §1670. Personal Fall Arrest Systems, Personal Fall Restraint Systems and Positioning Devices.
    (a) Approved personal fall arrest, personal fall restraint or positioning systems shall be worn by those employees whose work exposes them to falling in excess of 7 1/2 feet from the perimeter of a structure, unprotected sides and edges, leading edges, through shaftways and openings, SLOPED ROOF SURFACES STEEPER THAN 7:12, or other sloped surfaces steeper than 40 degrees not otherwise adequately protected under the provisions of these Orders.

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  23. Reality Check says:

    Who could possibly keep up with all the regulations governing behavior that was once of province of common sense? Gee, do I need to apply for an exemption from the Feds or do state rules apply in this case?

    That it takes more and more public employees to accomplish less and less should not be surprising. But it’s okay. It’s all done in the name of safety.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 4

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