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Skylights: A Deadly Hazard for  Workers on Rooftops

Posted by Amy Westebbe

Here are 6 tips for keeping your workers safe.

The danger of falling—and being fatally injured—while working off a roof top is inescapable in construction. Compliance with OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Act) regulations, along with attention to worker awareness and training, should be a given for any reputable construction company, or building owner.


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OSHA regards skylights as a hole in your roof.

OSHA makes each employer responsible for furnishing employees “a place of employment which (is) free from recognized Hazards.” Toward this end, skylights have their own set of OSHA regulations, which can be briefly summarized as:

  • 29 CFR §1910.23(a)(4): Every skylight floor opening and hole must be guarded by a standard skylight screen or a fixed standard railing on all exposed sides.
  • 29 CFR §1910.23 (e)(8): Skylight screens must withstand a load of 200 pounds applied perpendicular at any one area of the screen, won’t break the glass below them under ordinary loads or impact and will be constructed of grillwork with openings not more than 4 inches long or slate-work with openings not more than 2 inches wide with length unrestricted.
  • 29 CFR §1910.23 (e)(8): Employers must provide fall protection systems, inspect walking and working surfaces for strength and structural integrity and protect workers from falling through holes (including skylights) more than 6 feet above lower levels by personal fall arrest systems, covers or guardrail systems.

Poor rooftop safety protocols can mean fines, injuries, even death.

OSHA records 15 incidents of employees being killed by falling through skylights between Oct. 2017 and July 2018. In addition to loss of life, consequences can include serious injuries, lost work days and costly fines for safety violations. Here are a few incidents that reinforce the life-and-death nature of working around skylights:

  • Example 1: Stamford, CT, Oct. 2018: A worker died after falling about 30 feet through a skylight while repairing or replacing four-foot by four-foot skylights on a warehouse roof. Authorities said it was clear there was not enough support on the roof to handle the man’s weight.
  • Example 2: Sandusky, OH, Sept. 2018: A worker suffered a serious fall while removing insulating blankets from a roof at the Sandusky Amusement Park. Cedar Fair LP was fined the maximum penalty of $142,270 for safety violations, including failure to train employees to recognize fall hazards.
  • Example 3: Westwood, Feb. 2015: A teenager who was working for a landscaper during his school vacation, slipped and fell onto an already-cracked skylight while clearing snow off the roof of a retail store. He fell about 25 feet to the floor, but luckily, his injuries were not serious.

 

Example 4: Kentucky, Dec. 2015: a 25-year-old roofer was stretching roofing insulation near the peak of a roof when the insulation tore, causing him to lose his balance. When he stepped forward onto a clear fiberglass skylight to try and regain balance, the skylight broke and he fell 30 feet to his death.

Protect your workers doing rooftop jobs.

Skylights are not designed to protect against the weight of a human body striking or leaning against it. These preventative measures will help assure that your rooftop workers stay safe this winter:

1. Fall Prevention Program: Develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive fall prevention program that, at a minimum, complies with applicable OSHA fall prevention standards.

2. Inspect Before Work Starts: Inspect the worksite before the job begins to identify fall hazards and to determine the appropriate fall prevention system for workers.

3. Conduct Periodic Inspections: Conduct periodic scheduled and unscheduled inspections to ensure that the fall prevention system is used and maintained correctly.

4. Train Workers: Be sure all workers recognize fall hazards associated with skylights and roof and door openings, and ensure they know the correct fall prevention procedures.

5. Require the Right Equipment: Require, provide and ensure the use of appropriate fall protection systems that use covers or screens, railings and PFAS, including a full-body harness, lanyard, connectors and appropriate anchorage points.

6. Comply with child labor laws: Do not permit workers under age 16 to perform any type of construction work. Do not permit workers under age 18 to perform roofing work (including repair work) in any nonagricultural work setting.

Contact General Safety Services if your rooftop is not in compliance. We are the safety experts when it comes to fall protection and keeping workers safe! 

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