Rooftops Present Big Risks

By Dan Hannan

Falls from ladders, trips and falls, and falls from heights, like a roof, skylight, or hatchway result in serious if not fatal injuries. With nearly 5,000 workplace fatalities each year, the majority occur as a result of a fall. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to protect their employees from all recognized hazards. Building owners, as contractual employers, must maintain their buildings in a safe condition to protect not only their own staff but contractors as well. So, whether you work on, own, or operate a building facility you are likely exposed to risk and liability from fall hazards.

A non-penetrating guardrail system used for rooftop edge protection. (Photo: Hilmerson Safety Services)

Whenever facility owners allow access to roof environments for maintenance or construction activities, fall protection must be provided to prevent injury. Fall protection can take a number of forms including a suitable parapet wall, personal fall protection equipment, or a guardrail system. Additionally, a maintenance worker or contractor must be properly trained, outfitted with the right safety equipment, and preferably authorized by the building owner/manager to work on roofs. A rooftop management plan is an effective tool to help manage rooftop risk.

Here are some things to consider when allowing work to be performed on roofs:

Once opened, a hatchway left unguarded presents a fall hazard. Protection is completed with a guardrail system and self-closing access gate. (Photo: Hilmerson Safety Services)
  • Is the worker or contractor experienced and do they possess the right type of training to use safety fall protection equipment?
  • Is the roof protected by an engineered fall protection system such as a guardrail, or will the person(s) be using a body harness and lifeline?
  • Are skylights, hatchways, or holes present and properly guarded?
  • Will access to the roof be controlled, preferably through a work order or permit? This allows authorization, accounting for who’s on the roof, and a review of the scope of work to ensure the necessary safeguards are in place.
  • What’s the plan if someone has a medical emergency? If access occurs by a ladder or stairway can the injured person be quickly retrieved by the local fire department. Pre-planning would include contacting the fire department to discuss.
  • If the roof is ringed by parapet walls are they at least 39 inches in height? This is the minimum height specified by OSHA to provide a barrier against falling.
A skylight cage provides effective fall protection. (Photo: Hilmerson Safety Services)

OSHA identifies building owners as contractual employers and has issued citations for unsafe conditions or injury events. Putting a little thought into your rooftop work helps prevent injury and mitigate risk. A more comprehensive rooftop management plan can also be prepared which provides a greater degree of safety assurance.

Dan Hannan is a Certified Safety Professional for Hilmerson Safety Services, a full service professional safety services and consulting firm that educates its clients of the various OSHA regulations and the adverse impact that accidents or injuries may have due to non-compliance with governing regulations.