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How to Prevent Falls During Roof Top Work

- April 25, 2019 by Leslie Stoll, CSP, ARM (View all posts by Leslie)

Many of our policyholders have reasons for their employees to be on a roof at some point. Sometimes it’s to inspect the roof, or perhaps it’s to service an air conditioning unit. In some cases, it may be for something completely out of the ordinary like retrieving a lost baseball. As a child, I can recall many times when our school custodian would toss us back a ball from the edge of the roof. As a safety professional, I can appreciate his willingness to be helpful, but I’d much rather the school buy a new baseball than have him risk a fall.

HVAC contractors, satellite installation contractors, electricians, and many other building contractors must access rooftops to install or service equipment. Whatever the reason is for having any employee on a roof, proper control must be taken. Below I have outlined the four steps to reduce your company’s exposure to roof top related falls.

1. Decide why someone is going up.

It is critical or can it wait until another planned task has to be completed? The more times an employee accesses the roof, the more chances an employee could fall. Can the task be done from the ground? If you never go up, you can’t fall down! Insurance companies and roof inspection companies are moving towards technology and using drones to inspect roofs rather than having people working at heights.

2. Know who should go up.

Only employees who are trained to evaluate roof top hazard should be authorized to be on the roof. Can they recognize weak areas of the roof? How about skylights without barriers or other protection? Is the employee capable of working at heights? Just because you hire someone to be your general maintenance person doesn’t mean they are comfortable working 20 feet off the ground.

3. Plan the work.

Make sure there is a safe way to access the roof, a safe way to bring up needed tools and equipment, a safe way to erect temporary safety controls, a safe way to tie off with personal fall protection if needed. Also, be sure to check that weather conditions are expected to be good for the duration of the work to be performed.

4. Assess and control the roof hazards.

As soon as the employee accesses the roof, he/she should conduct a risk assessment to evaluate the situation for hazards and necessary controls. As mentioned in #2, people who access roofs should be able to identify unsafe conditions such as issues with any guard railing systems or wall parapets. Once accessed, the employee must be able to control the exposure. This may mean stopping work until controls can be put in place. Your employee should be given full control to stop work if needed.

Even the simplest of tasks performed on the roof can be deadly if proper controls are not in place. If you are a building owner, please be sure to review these four steps with supervisors and maintenance staff. If you are contractor, please stress the importance of conducting the risk assessment to identify hazards. Many contractors know how to control their employees’ fall exposures, but run into problems because their employees are making unsafe decisions in an effort to safe time. Please make sure everyone understands how to be safe on the roof before allowing them to climb.