When companies follow OSHA regulations for roof fall protection, they’re doing more than avoiding fines. They are making the workplace a safer place for all, whether employee, contract worker, or visitor. It’s nice to think that implementing fall protection equipment like a guardrail is enough—but it doesn’t always work out that way. From inclement weather to unexpected visitors, the world is full of variables and unforeseen situations. To keep your workers and visitors safe at all times, roof safety strategies need to include both equipment and workplace culture. To put together a complete roof fall protection strategy, here are few things to consider:
1. Call Out Your Red Flags
Don’t ever assume hazards are obvious. Some are not. And while many may be, when your mind is on a task at hand, it’s easy to take a misstep and find yourself in harm’s way.
Make sure you identify all areas that need coverage, from the roof edge and slope to windows, skylights, and machinery. Then, make sure each and every person that sets foot on your roof is aware of them as well. It’s good practice to repeat this process frequently—repetition will only strengthen the safety connection and keep it top of mind.
Visual reminders help as well. Warning lines, signs, even safety posters placed in your break areas (or elsewhere where employees and visitors will see them), reinforce both the fact that caution is needed and the steps you can take to stay safe.
2. Get The Right Stuff
When purchasing fall protection equipment, start by making sure it’s OSHA compliant. Fortunately, there’s a myriad of OSHA-compliant products on the market that make ensuring roof safety much easier. Partnering with a dedicated safety equipment manufacturer will help take the guesswork out which equipment will be best for the needs of your company and your team.
Depending on the type of equipment you’re utilizing, it not only must be installed correctly, but inspected frequently and easy to access. You also need to determine what type of equipment will be best for the job, and if you’ll need a combination of products. Is a guardrail sufficient? Or will you also need safety gates and ladder guards? Are there roof holes, hatches, or skylights that need to be protected? Then you might also need to use fall protection equipment to prevent risks from areas other than the leading edge. If you have workers on scaffolding, a slanted roof, or elsewhere a guardrail wouldn’t be sufficient, you may also need a safety harness and lifeline as part of your roof fall protection strategy.
3. Recognize & Encourage A Culture of Safety
No matter what your industry, everyone wants to stay on time and under budget—and often, these are the things that get rewarded. But do you take the time to recognize and encourage safety?
Some companies offer a safety incentive program including monetary or group rewards for clean safety records. While this may work for some, EHS Today posits that sometimes this method can backfire. Rewards can become routine and therefore ineffective, employees can be punitive to one another when an incident negates a reward, or people can fudge the safety records to get the expected reward.
A safety incentive program, if one is used, should be part of a larger system of recognition. Small things like a personal note of gratitude from your CEO to a member of your crew that recognizes their efforts can go a long way in increasing motivation. They also support the idea that safety isn’t just a necessity—it’s part of your workplace culture.
Speaking of culture, your employees should never feel like they have to choose between safety and project completion. If they notice an issue of safety on the job, they should notify a manager immediately and work should halt until the right precautions have been taken. Workers should likewise be encouraged to speak up (perhaps confidentially) without fear of retaliation when they see others performing work in an unsafe way.
4. Consider the Elements
Outdoor workers face unique workplace challenges. It may be windy, wet, hot, cold, or otherwise uncomfortable—and dangerous as well. The threat of an oncoming storm may encourage employees to work more quickly than they should. Or, the impacts of extreme weather can cause hazards that go beyond fall protection equipment.
Too much sun and extreme heat can lead to heat illness and heat stroke. Too much cold can lead to frostbite and slippery conditions. Wind could blow equipment or debris in a worker’s face. What measures are being taken to protect workers in these cases? Sometimes, it may be necessary to shorten the workday, offer additional sun/wind/cold protection, or change the focus to account for safety.
5. Show You Care
Remember: your workers are people with lives outside the workplace. Whatever is happening with their relationships, finances, and more can impact how they do their jobs. If you notice an employee that seems uncharacteristically distracted and underperforming, reach out. There may be something going on behind the scenes. This will not only help prevent an accident but further your culture of safety.
As this article says, “Safety is about people, not numbers.” It goes on to tell this story:
“I once kept a safety manager at Sandia National Labs late in training and he had to conduct a safety meeting with one of his crews. Instead of presenting his usual PowerPoint with the TRIR and accident data, he simply showed up and told everyone how much he cared about them and wanted to keep them safe. Everyone on the crew lined up to shake his hand and tell him that it was the best safety meeting they had ever attended.”
Of course, profits are the main goal of every business, but they should never come at the expense of employee safety. When people feel valued and respected, they want to do good work. Safety can even increase profitability—and that’s not counting the lack of OSHA fines. Workers that are motivated and loyal are far more productive than those that don’t feel cared for.
In the end, on paper, a guardrail and a safety harness may seem enough. And while they will do most of the heavy lifting in your roof safety strategy, fall protection equipment is only the beginning. In the real world, safety is an ever-moving target. Weather conditions, unique job sites, human emotions and behaviors, and more can impact what safety will truly look like in your workplace. Consider OSHA regulations as your starting point, then build a culture of safety that focuses on the people you’re protecting.