Considering fall protection once again tops the list of OSHA’s most frequently cited violations, rooftop fall protection is a significant concern for employers and safety managers across a number of industries. Rooftop work, elevated surfaces, walking-working surfaces, and working at height and/or over dangerous equipment can all present fall hazards. Fortunately, injury is preventable with the right fall protection systems in place. So, whether you’re taking your first job as a safety manager, or an old pro starting at a new company, we put together a handy guide that will help ensure your workers stay safe, and you can get your job done.
Make A Safety Plan (And Put It In Writing)
Like all good things, safety starts with a plan. Yours should be written down and include all the details: where your hazards are, the equipment you need, your process for safety checks, maintenance, and any alternative fall protection systems you might need where conventional systems won’t work or don’t apply. Likewise, it should also contain a rescue plan in the event a fall or injury occurs.
Remember, this plan should be an evolving document. If, unfortunately, an incident happens, take time to review and investigate what went wrong, and how it can be prevented in the future. Then update your plan accordingly.
Your safety plan should be kept where any member of your team can access it, at any time.
Train Your Team
Safety plans are the start, but they only work when they are put into action. And the best way to do that is to make sure your entire team is thoroughly trained. Investing in comprehensive training helps ensure that your employees know what they need to do—and when to do it—to stay safe on the job.
Create A Checklist
Each project is different, but it’s worthwhile to create a general checklist nonetheless to make sure you aren’t missing any details. Here are some basic questions to get the ball rolling:
- Will your employees have to work at height on this job site?
- Does this project involve a low slope roof or steep-slope roof?
- Are there parapets on the roof and if so, are they at least 39 inches high?
- Will ladders be used and if so, are they in good condition and set up properly?
- Will aerial lifts be used and if so, are they in good condition and are workers trained in proper use?
- Will scaffolding be used and if so, has it been inspected?
- Will a fall protection system be used?
- Will all workers be behind a guard rail system?
- Is the guard rail system at least 42 inches high?
- Can the guard rail system sustain a 200lb force within two inches of the top in any direction without failure?
- Are all open edges, hatches, skylights, roof holes, or other dangerous openings protected?
- Will workers be using lifelines and if so, are they in good order and proper length?
- Are harnesses readily available and inspected before each use?
- Are all employees trained on proper lifeline use?
- Are anchors installed?
- Do you have a rescue plan and if so, what is it?
Have Your OSHA-Compliant Fall Protection Systems in Place
Whether you’re a new safety manager or a seasoned pro, you already know that no job should begin without having your rooftop fall protection set up and ready to go. Here are a few of your options:
1. Guard Rail Systems
Safety railings are a great choice because they can be either temporary or permanent, and take the guesswork out of fall protection for your employees. A guard rail system consists of top rails, midrails, and sometimes mesh or balusters. OSHA requires that the guard rails be 42 to 45 inches above the walking or working surface. The guard rail system should also be able to withstand a force of at least 200 pounds along the top edge.
A guard rail system is great for the leading edge of your work surface or rooftop, but it’s also a good option around roof holes, skylights, hatches, and machinery. If you need to come and go through a stairwell or ladder, it’s very easy to add a swing gate for easy and safe access. Safety railings are considered “passive fall protection”—that means they don’t require action from a user, and they stop a fall from ever happening to begin with by impeding passage.
2. Safety Net Systems
Safety net systems are installed below working surfaces to catch a worker mid-fall and are usually only practical when other fall protection systems aren’t feasible. They must be installed as close as possible under the surface on which your employees are working but in no case more than 30 feet below. For a full list of requirements—and to see if a safety net is right for your needs—have a look at OSHA’s provisions.
3. Personal Fall Arrest Systems
Personal fall arrest systems fall into the “active fall protection” category. That means that workers need to take action (like putting on a harness) in order to prevent injury from falls. They won’t stop a fall from happening, but they will stop a worker from reaching the level beneath them. Personal fall arrest systems consist of a harness, lanyards, and an anchorage point. They are practical when work is needed beyond the range of a guard rail, or when a guard rail system is simply impractical for the work to be done.
Unlike a guard rail system, personal fall arrest systems require a lot more from your workers. Employees need to be trained on how to inspect, put on, and use their harness and lanyard consistently. You’ll also need to have enough for everyone that will be working at height at any given time. And if there’s any sign of wear and tear, the harness must be taken out of use.
Other Things to Consider in Your Fall Protection Plan
We made brief mention of ladders, roof holes, hatches, and skylights earlier—and how you can help guard them or prevent falls around/through them with the use of safety railings. Many companies offer specific items for these items as well. Ladder guards, hatch guards, and skylight guards are all available and may make more sense to your particular set up.
When safety is your job, you can’t risk any mistakes. The workers you manage put their well-being in your hands on a daily basis. No matter how big or small the job, it’s worth it to review your safety plan and checklist before every new project begins. If you’re having trouble getting started on your rooftop fall protection plan—or just want to hear about the latest safety options available—give us a call. We’ll be a partner you can trust to help get your job done as safely and efficiently as possible.