Roofing and Fall Protection: Key Safety Considerations

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Streamlining and improving facility roof safety programs can help managers protect the health and safety of frontline technicians.

By Kristen Panella, co-author

Roofs are an essential part of institutional and commercial facilities and require regular maintenance to ensure their durability and longevity. However, working on a roof can be dangerous for frontline technicians, as falls from heights are a leading cause of workplace fatalities.

Unfortunately, many maintenance and engineering managers neglect or simply ignore this hazard. Therefore, it is vital for managers to take action to improve the safety of rooftop workers by implementing effective and compliant fall protection measures. A closer look at key considerations for streamlining and improving facility roof security can help managers protect the health and safety of frontline technicians.

Conduct a risk assessment

The first step in improving roof safety is to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. Managers who are conducting a risk assessment or developing a comprehensive fall protection plan need to think about fall hazards before starting work. This approach helps the employer manage fall hazards and focus attention on prevention efforts.

In this process, potential hazards are identified, the probability of accidents is assessed and the severity of the identified risks is determined. A comprehensive risk assessment should include:

  • Identification of the roof design, including slope, height and access points
  • Defining the type of work that will be carried out on the roof and the equipment that the technicians will need
  • Identification of potential hazards associated with the work, including those related to skylights, exposed edges and roof penetrations
  • Assess the probability of accidents based on the amount of traffic on the roof, weather conditions and workers’ experience
  • Determination of the severity of the identified risks, based on the fall height and the potential for injury.

Using the results of the risk assessment, managers can then develop a comprehensive fall protection plan tailored to the specific needs of their facility.

Choice of fall protection equipment

After a manager has completed a roofing work risk assessment by technicians, the next step is to determine the type of fall protection equipment required for the job. The most common types of fall protection include:

  • crash barriers. These permanent barriers are installed around the roof to prevent falls.
  • Personal Fall Protection Systems (PFAS). These systems consist of an anchor point, a full body harness and a lanyard or lifeline. Workers attach themselves to the anchor point and the PFAS prevents them from falling in the event of a slip or trip.
  • safety nets. These nets are installed under the roof to catch workers if they fall.
  • warning lines. These lines are placed around the perimeter of the roof to warn workers of the edge.

The choice of fall protection equipment depends on the specific hazards identified during the risk assessment. For example, guard rails might be the most appropriate option for roofs with exposed edges, while PFAS might be better suited to roofs with multiple access points. When PFAS are used, technicians should take special care to identify attachment points and managers must ensure employees understand how to properly use and inspect the equipment.

Creativity is key when evaluating and selecting fall protection equipment. For example, if managers plan to use warning lines, the policy may be that technicians use PFAS when outside the warning line.

Alternatively, in some cases, PFAS may even increase the likelihood of falling. An example is when multiple workers on the roof are using PFAS. The presence of so many lifelines can be a tripping hazard. Employers who can demonstrate that the use of traditional fall protection systems is impractical or represents a greater hazard must develop and follow comprehensive written alternatives to traditional fall protection plans.

Provide adequate training and supervision

Fall protection alone is not enough to keep workers safe on rooftops. Appropriate training and supervision are also essential measures. Managers must ensure that all workers are trained in the correct use of fall protection equipment, including pre-use inspection and correct use. Workers also need to be trained in emergency procedures, such as how to rescue someone who has fallen and how to administer first aid.

In addition to training, supervisors must ensure workers are using fall protection equipment correctly and that they are following all safety procedures. Regular inspections of equipment and workplaces should be conducted to identify potential hazards and ensure workers are following safety protocols. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website provides a wealth of fall protection safety information.

Comply with applicable regulations

Finally, it is imperative for managers to ensure their fall protection program conforms to all relevant codes and standards. In the United States, OSHA sets standards for fall protection in the construction industry. OSHA requires workers to be protected from falls on roofs over six feet in height.

But managers may also need to follow standards for MEWPs, personal protective equipment, and other gear to complete the job. There are also standards for specific industries, such as telecom and power generation, that managers may need to review.

ANSI/ASSP Z359 fall protection and fall protection standards address fall protection equipment and systems for climbing, work positioning, fall protection, rescue, evacuation, and other fall hazards. These standards also address training and methods for identifying and mitigating hazards to prevent injury to technicians working at height. Compliance with these regulations is vital, as non-compliance can result in hefty fines and legal liability.

Roofing and fall protection are critical considerations for maintenance and engineering managers planning and overseeing roofing projects on their facilities. By conducting a thorough risk assessment, selecting the correct fall protection equipment, providing appropriate training and supervision, and ensuring compliance with all relevant codes and standards, you can design and implement a canopy and fall protection program that not only meets regulatory requirements, but technician knowledge base gets even better and prevents accidents.

Kristen Panella is the founder of 2SAFE Consulting Inc. He is 2SAFE’s principal trainer on EPA and OSHA regulations and an OSHA Authorized Trainer. He has completed numerous OSHA safety and hazardous waste operations and emergency response training courses.

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