Rooftop Maintenance Tasks and Fall Protection — How Close can you get to the Leading Edge?

Derek Tokarz

Derek Tokarz

Certified in Safety Management Group's Training in Fall Protection

Workers With Nail Gun on Roof

Employers have more freedom to customize their fall protection plan under the new OSHA 1910 Walking-Working Surfaces Standard that went into effect recently. But they need to take great care: the flexibility it affords carries risk.   

The new rule redefines safe distances from the roof edge and the degree of protection required within specified footage. OSHA has also recognized other forms of fall protection such as fall restraint and arrest systems and included them as suitable solutions in the new standards.

There’s also the nature of the job to consider — “temporary and infrequent tasks” conducted further from the edge require less stringent protection. Though these are only two stipulations in the update, they give employers and building owners the ability to choose between various fall protection equipment. This puts the onus on a decision-maker who might not be aware of the pros and cons of safety equipment in certain scenarios.  

OSHA 1910 Walking-Working Surfaces Standard Requirements

OSHA estimates that OSHA 1910 can help prevent around 29 deaths and 5,842 injuries each year. OSHA provides general industry standards when working on a roof with a low slope or at a 4-foot height, including:  

  • Six feet from the edge OSHA 1910.28(b)(13)(i): This rooftop work will require standard fall protection, including a fall restraint system, fall arrest system or guardrail.
  • Between six and 15 feet from the edge OSHA 1910.28(b)(13)(ii): Like working six feet from the edge, you will need standard fall protection, including a fall restraint system, fall arrest system or guardrail. A secured designated area in lieu of conventional fall protection is acceptable as long as the work is both “infrequent and temporary”
  • 15 feet and greater from the edge OSHA 1910.28(b)(13)(iii): You will continue to need standard fall protection at this distance. Provided the work is both infrequent and temporary, fall protection is not required, but we still recommend it.

One challenge many employers face is that there is a loose definition for “infrequent and temporary” work. Without a clear definition, employers could be exposing workers and themselves to danger, legal issues, and risk. In the event of a fall, can it be proved in a court of law that the worker was performing a task that was temporary and infrequent?

How Frequently Do Workers Access Your Roof? 

Most commercial and manufacturing buildings have a variety of complex systems that are managed, repaired and otherwise maintained from the roof, including communications, plumbing, HVAC piping and other system controls. Depending on the scenario, the roof could be accessed three or four times per day and in some situations, access is required at night. Even if maintenance is required less often, accidents can happen in unexpected ways and in seemingly harmless scenarios. For example, 25 percent of fatalities reported in a recent NIOSH study occurred from a 6 to 10-foot fall from a ladder.

Most commercial and manufacturing buildings have a variety of complex systems that workers must manage, repair and otherwise maintain from the roof, including communications, plumbing, HVAC piping and other system controls. 

Depending on the scenario, workers might need to access the roof three or four times per day, and in some situations, access is required at night. Even if maintenance is required less often, accidents can happen in unexpected ways and in seemingly harmless scenarios. For example, a recent student reported that 20% of construction and roofing fatalities come from falls, highlighting the importance of rooftop and ladder safety in the workplace.  

Permanent solutions like guardrails are actually a time-saver and a solid safety net regardless of the situation because they are already established and OSHA compliant. We recommend that employers and building owners take extra precautions and conservative safety measures — it’s our goal to keep our clients and their working environment safe. 

Should you go outside of the OSHA 1910 Walking-Working Surfaces Standard law and do more? We think yes. Gravity doesn’t take a break and neither should we in our efforts to protect the American workforce.

How Can FIXFAST USA Help You When Working Close to the Edge of the Roof?

When creating a safe rooftop safety system, you will want to invest in equipment that is durable and reliable in addition to meeting OSHA regulations. FIXFAST USA develops several types of rooftop safety equipment that you can install and implement to keep your employees safe. Some products we offer include: 

  • Guardrail system: Guardrails are permanent, passive fall prevention systems that your employees can use to keep them safe as they work toward the edge of the roof. Our KATTGUARD™ Roof Guardrail can attach to the roof or its side, whatever fits your rooftops best. They are durable and reliable, so they can continually protect your employees as they complete edge work. 
  • Warning line system: Warning lines provide a visual cue to workers that they are nearing the edge of the rooftop. While they work great for unprotected areas, they can also work together with other systems, like guardrails for added protection. FIXFAST USA’s KATTGUARD Warning Lines are aluminum posts that you can place 15 to 30 feet apart, allowing you to signify to your workers where the edge of the roof is while they work. 
  • Lifeline and anchor points: Lifelines and anchor points can provide more physical protection as your employees work near the roof’s edge. Employees will have cables and harnesses anchoring them to protective systems, which can help prevent injuries and fatalities in the event of a fall. Like warning lines, you can pair these systems with others for optimized safety efforts and more comprehensive fall protection methods.

You can also work with a FIXFAST USA representative to determine which preventative and protective measures will work best for your facility. Because each building and rooftop is unique, we can walk through your needs to match you and your rooftop workers with solutions that will keep everyone safe. 

Invest in Quality Roof Edge Protection Systems With FIXFAST USA

When you have workers who need to access and work on rooftops regularly, it is essential you take the right measures to comply with OSHA regulations, especially OSHA 1910. You can create an OSHA-compliant safety system by investing in the right equipment, like the ones that FIXFAST USA offers. 

FIXFAST USA offers more than just safety equipment. When you work with us, you can receive access to training and educational programs, so you and your employees can learn more about how to stay safe in the workplace. In addition to pairing you with the right equipment for your needs, we can deliver equipment to ensure it arrives safely at your location.

Questions about appropriate rooftop safety practices? Contact us.

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