Rooftop falls are responsible for a third of fatal construction falls. Not only do rooftop falls happen often, but they are incredibly dangerous when they do. Often, those who fall are carrying heavy gear and falling from a less-than-optimal height: tall enough that it will injure them, but low enough that they have no time to react and position themselves. Many rooftop falls can be avoided by understanding and limiting the most common hazards.
Unsecured access points
Many rooftop fall accidents and injuries occur not on the roof itself, but when accessing it. Employees must be taught proper ladder and climbing safety when accessing roofs from below, and all equipment used to access a roof must be properly stabilized. Points of failure can occur around even stabilized equipment, so the roof itself must be inspected and safe before attempting to reach it. Access-point injuries can also occur on the way down, if employees do not make sure that they are properly secured while descending.
Roof construction and equipment
The physical build of a roof can present hazards. Employees need to be constantly aware of their surroundings. Equipment, such as pipes and vents, installed on the roof can present trip hazards or snag gear and tools. The roof may have variable heights and areas that suddenly rise or fall, which can lead to poor footing. Roofs in disrepair may have soft spots, cracks or loose material. Employees should always make sure that their footing is firm before shifting their weight and should be on the lookout for any potentially dangerous installed equipment.
Obstructed views and poor edge awareness
Poor line of sight and a lack of edge awareness both can cause falls when working on roofs. When working in darker environments, employees must ensure that the entire site is brightly lit and that they can maintain line of sight to the edge. Edge awareness is the employee’s ability to track the edge of the roof from where they are. Employees that do not have edge awareness in the back of their mind may approach the edge without realizing it or may assume that the edge is much farther away than it actually is.
At times, a roof can simply fail and cause fall damage. Inspections are incredibly important, but they can’t eliminate all of the risk. There are times when employees may need to work on a roof that is already damaged or may end up on a roof that is damaged, but not in an obvious way. To avoid injury or fall during structural failure, employees should test the strength of the roof before they progress and should be trained on what to do should they feel the roof begin to fail beneath them.
Through careful risk assessment and risk management, many construction-related issues can be prevented and avoided. Of course, preventing rooftop fall hazards is only one way that you can protect yourself or your employees. Proper gear is another. By ensuring that everyone has the proper rooftop safety gear, you can reduce the amount of damage that will occur, should a fall happen.
John Rexroad is the president of Leading Edge Safety Systems. Based in Madison, Connecticut, Leading Edge designs and develops safety netting for the construction, amusement-park and sports industries — including the netting system used on the Washington Monument.