person in roof safety harness

Ensure Roof Safety with These Fall Protection Tips

Falls are a leading OSHA violation and cause of death

By Ashley Beebe, Contributing Writer  

Facility managers and technicians can encounter many hazards on the job, including risks associated with working on tall buildings.

If employers aren't doing what they can to prevent hazards, such as falling, facility employees risk serious injury, illness and death. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry and falls from roofs accounted for 34 percent of deaths between 2003 and 2013. Falls are typically the No. 1 OSHA violation, year after year.  

In order to prevent falls, Hanne Stahl, an environment, health and safety (EHS) manager with ESFM, says prevention and preparedness are key to ensuring the safety of employees when working on any roof.

“Fall protection policies must be in place to ensure everyone's safety,” Stahl says.  

She said ESFM has a work permit process that starts with an assessment to determine the hazards on the roof, including working in areas with an unprotected edge, the condition of the roof itself, roofs with equipment that produces hazardous emissions and ensuring the weather will not be an issue. 

“Before performing any task on a roof, it must be evaluated to determine how to best mitigate the hazards,” she says.

Working on roofs usually requires fall protection, like any other elevated location with unprotected edges. Fall protection could include the installation of barriers, guardrails, personal fall protection or anchor points. However, OSHA provides special options for low-slope (flat) roofs. 

If a roof has a guardrail or parapet at least 39 inches high, no other fall protection is required, says Edwin Zalewski, J.J. Keller senior EHS editor. Guardrails must be 42 inches high, plus or minus three inches, so a parapet less than 39 inches is not equivalent to a guardrail and other fall protection would be required. 

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“Without a guardrail, two key factors are how far from the edge employees will work and how long the job will take,” Zalewski says. “These determine if employees could use a designated area. Employees may use a designated area for temporary and infrequent work at least six feet from the edge, or for any duration project at least 15 feet from the edge, as described in 1910.28(b)(13).” 

OSHA defines “temporary” work as work that will not take longer than an hour or two. “Infrequent” is defined as work that only arises on occasion, like monthly jobs, says Zalewski.  

“Finally, if the roof has no guardrail and if a designated area cannot be used based on distance from the edge or duration of the project, employees must use conventional fall protection such as personal fall arrest or travel restraint systems; these require an anchorage as described in 1910.140(c)(13),” Zalewski says. “If an engineered anchor point is not available, a qualified person must evaluate the proposed structure or component to determine if it meets OSHA’s anchorage requirements.” 

Having the proper training and ensuring that the proper tools are available and in good working condition can also minimize hazards as well, Stahl says. 

Ashley Beebe is a freelance writer for Advantage Informatics. 

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  posted on 5/1/2024   Article Use Policy

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