Fall Protection on Roofing Jobs


HAMILTON, N.J. – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited a roofing company for 12 serious safety violations found at a Hamilton, New Jersey work site. OSHA issued $33,600 in proposed penalties following an April inspection, which was initiated in response to a referral from the police department regarding a worker who had fallen from the roof to the third floor during a roof collapse.

"Falls continue to be the leading cause of worker deaths in the construction industry," said a director of OSHA. "When employers do not take the proper precautions against fall hazards, they show a disregard for worker safety and leave employees vulnerable to unnecessary risks, such as in this incident."

The contractor had failed to develop an accident prevention program, which would include initiating and maintaining frequent, regularly scheduled inspections by a competent person and training workers to recognize and avoid hazards while working on roofs.

Other violations included failing to inspect the structural integrity of the roof, providing fall protection and training, using ladders that extend at least 3 feet to access the roof, and providing adequate ladders and ladder training. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).

Falls are a leading cause of death in construction. In 2010, there were 264 fall fatalities (255 falls to lower level) out of 774 total fatalities in construction. These deaths were preventable.

There is a simple plan from OSHA for saving lives and preventing falls from ladders, scaffolds and roofs:
1. Plan ahead
Whenever a worker will be working from heights, such as ladders, scaffolds, and roofs, always plan the project to ensure that the job is going to be done safely.
Begin by deciding how the job will be done, visualize the tasks in your mind, and think ahead to plan what safety equipment may be needed to complete each task.
When estimating the cost of a job, always estimate the cost of safety equipment and the labor cost for installing and removing safety equipment. Plan to have all the necessary equipment and tools available at the construction site any time a job is higher than six feet off the ground. When planning a roofing job, think about all of the possible fall hazards, such as holes, skylights, rotten sheathing, and leading edges, then select fall protection suitable to that work. Add the equipment to the estimate and to planning for the job.

2. Provide the right equipment
Different ladders and scaffolds are appropriate for different jobs. Always provide workers with the kind of tools and equipment they need to get the job done safely. For roof work, there are many ways to prevent falls. If workers use personal fall arrest systems, provide a harness for each worker who needs to tie off to the anchor. Make sure the system fits, and regularly inspect all fall protection equipment to ensure it can still support a man’s weight if necessary.

3. Train everyone to use the equipment safely
Not everyone is interested in safety. It is usually the superintendent or foreman’s job to make sure that safety equipment is used. Workers often need training on the specific equipment they will use to complete the job. OSHA provides materials that employers can use during toolbox talks to train workers on safe practices to avoid falls in construction. It’s important that the foreman shows leadership in regard to safety. If the foreman does not “buy in” to safety procedures, it’s extremely unlikely the people working under him will.

As we can see from other’s mistakes, rotten roof sheathing can easily fail under the weight of a worker. It’s best to inspect a roof before sending workers up and finding too late that it’s not safe. Make sure that all skylights are covered with plywood able to support the weight of a person.

Safety for roofing
Each employee working in roofing on low-slope roofs with unprotected sides and edges 6 feet above the ground needs to be protected by guardrails, safety net, personal fall arrest system (body belt or harness), or a combination of the above unless the roof is 50 feet or less in width.

On steep roofs with unprotected sides or edges, there needs to be a guardrail system with toe boards, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system such as a body belt or harness apparatus.

While it may cost a little more for fall protection, always plan for safety when working on roofs. Accidents can and do happen. Due diligence before starting the job can prove to be your best insurance policy in regard to safety. The short time it takes you to inspect can save lives, reduce your insurance payments, and increase your reputation for safety.

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