Roof fall protection is important no matter where you live, but rooftop risks vary depending upon your region and its weather conditions. How you train your employees, identify dangers, and manage those risks will vary, too.
OSHA lists numerous requirements that apply to all situations; for example: “The employer must ensure each employee on a runway or similar walkway is protected from falling 4 feet (1.2 m) or more to a lower level by a guardrail system.”
However, roof fall protection means identifying all potential hazards, and it’s important to go above and beyond the basic safety standards to ensure employee safety in specific weather conditions. Guard railings may not be enough when it comes to rain, snow, heavy winds, and more.
Each of the five regions of the country experiences its own certain weather challenges. Of course, there is some overlap—and, sometimes it rains in the desert, too. Let’s take a closer look at how to manage these risks when it comes to working at heights.
Extreme Cold, Snow, and Ice: Northeast, Midwest, Northwest
The Northeast, Midwest, and parts of the Northwest are all faced with extremely cold temperatures in the winter, which can include wind, snow, or ice—not to mention a lot of discomfort while working in the cold air. It’s essential to instruct employees to dress in warm layers and waterproof boots and gloves.
Discomfort alone can cause a safety issue. If an employee’s fingers are cold, she may not be able to move them very well, which impacts her ability to do the job. If an employee is ducking his head or pulling a hat down to avoid the sting of the wind, he may not be able to see very well.
Even the act of clearing snow can be a hazardous venture. Occasionally unseen ice on top of snow can cause extra slippery conditions. In these cases, the work surface should be inspected and de-iced. A safety railing, safety net, and/or personal fall arrest system will help prevent falling in the event of a slip, but the slip itself can be dangerous, too. Clear all ladders and scaffolding—as well as your safety railing—before allowing employees to access them.
Ensure all equipment is stored in a clean, dry place. If a safety harness freezes and thaws repeatedly, it can weaken or rot. Safety and other equipment should all be inspected before use to ensure they’re functioning properly in the cold.
Part of your safety strategy is keeping an eye on weather reports and, when necessary, calling off a workday to avoid putting the employees in a risky situation.
Extreme Heat: All Regions
At some point during the year, most places in the country will experience some extreme heat in the summer; even 80-90 degree temperatures call for precautions. And the deserts of the Southwest regularly have stretches of days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit!
Sunburn and heat illness are of concern all over the country. Sunscreen and proper clothing can do a lot to protect skin from damage, but heat illness needs to be more closely monitored. Breathable clothing, access to shade, and permission (along with encouragement) to take breaks and drink plenty of water are all part of staying safe during a hot workday.
Heat illness and just general heat-related fatigue can increase the risk of trips and falls. Any worker on a rooftop during the summer must be protected with OSHA approved fall protection equipment, including guard rail systems or a safety railing. It’s also important to do what you can to schedule work hours during cooler parts of the day. Many employees would rather wake up and start work early, so they can end their workday before the heat is at its strongest.
Teach all employees to identify the signs of heat illness and call for help if they suspect someone is at risk. These signs include:
- Muscle spasms and cramps
- Excessive sweating
- Pale, cool skin—or red, hot skin (indicating an even more serious issue)
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness and fainting
- Loss of consciousness
Hot temperatures also lead to hot surfaces, putting employees at risk of burns when they touch those metal handles, machines, and more.
Humidity: Southwest, Midwest
Heat and humidity often go hand-in-hand, with humidity making the heat feel worse. Humidity requires many of the same precautions you would take with the heat, especially when it comes to fall protection. Make sure no one on the job is avoiding the use of safety gear because of discomfort from the weather. Harnesses and helmets should still be tightly secured. Quick-dry clothing is a good choice in these conditions. Beware of slick surfaces and, as always, be ready to call the day off if the heat index is too high.
Rain: Northwest, Midwest, Northeast, Southeast
A wet surface creates a slip-and-fall hazard, and guard rail systems can only do so much. Make sure that a safety railing is in place, but always inspect the surface for wet areas. Consider the use of non-slip or absorbent mats to help protect your workers.
Rain can also create a visibility issue; wet equipment is a concern if it may slip from an employee’s hands. Rain combined with wind or cold temperatures can put people at a greater risk for frostbite or hypothermia.
Strong winds pose an incredible hazard when working on an elevated surface. A strong gust could actually cause a worker to lose balance, but it can also blow equipment and debris or cause an employee to lose control of equipment or materials.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration normally considers winds exceeding 64.4 kilometers per hour (40 miles per hour), or 48.3 kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour) if the work involves material handling, as meeting this criteria, unless the employer takes precautions to protect employees from the hazardous effects of the wind.”
Guard railings are an important step in preventing falls due to winds, but strong wind may require other safety precautions. In the Midwest, tornadoes are also a consideration. If there is any chance of a tornado, the job site should be abandoned for the day. Listen carefully to weather reports and clear the area as soon as you realize you’re at risk.
Your roof fall protection strategy needs to include consideration for all the weather conditions your region may face during a particular season. Thorough employee training, guard rail systems, proper inspection and care of equipment and working surfaces, and employees who are empowered to identify risks and ask for assistance are all part of keeping your team safe. For more information about guard railings and other OSHA-compliant roof fall protection, please contact us.