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Rooftop Fall Protection: Truss to Hatch to Toeboards

Rooftop Fall Protection: Truss to Hatch to Toeboards

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Rooftop safety remains one of the most prevalent topics in environmental, health, and safety communities. During a building’s initial construction, providing fall protection for workers assembling, erecting, and/or finishing roof trusses is a difficult task with complicated challenges. During the lifetime of the building, the safety of individuals accessing the roof for a multitude of reasons must be considered. Of many rooftop access options, ladder & hatch systems are quite common but can also be challenging to ensure the safety of the worker accessing the roof. However, once that worker has successfully breached the hatch and reached their building’s rooftop, the edge of the rooftop must be protected from workers accidentally falling while performing their task.

Truss Construction Safety

The construction of roof trusses can be a potentially difficult task, as it typically requires workers & equipment to perform tasks elevated from the ground. Unfortunately, this is also a period of construction when roof trusses cannot be considered as structurally sound mounting points for fall protection anchorages. Safety managers who are involved with project management can coordinate with local vendors & trade partners to supply temporary or mobile personal fall protection systems for workers at height during this process. In the construction industry, OSHA requires employers to protect workers from accidental falls that could occur while working six feet or higher above the next lower level.

Before trusses are properly restrained & braced further along in the construction process, they cannot be relied on for potential fall protection anchorage locations unless under supervision & documentation by a Qualified Person, as defined by OSHA. Instead of using the truss itself for anchorage connections, the use of scaffolds or mobile elevated work platforms (i.e. aerial lifts, scissor lifts, etc.) can help provide methods of transporting workers to heights and providing various methods of fall protection. For example, most aerial boom lifts are now manufactured with an OSHA/ANSI-compliant anchorage connection location to attach a worker’s personal fall arrest system (or PFAS). Safety personnel can coordinate to purchase or rent mobile fall protection systems with telescoping arms that can provide anchor points over forty feet in the air. Depending on the system, these can provide 1-2 workers with an overhead anchorage connection for their PFAS. With fall arrest, an elevated anchor point is an industry best practice.

Roof Access Safety

Building designs that allow rooftop access through familiar entrances like full-sized doors after a flight of stairs or a rooftop extension of the elevator shaft can provide very safe means to access the rooftop. However, most building owners are interested in restricting access to the rooftop to strictly necessary personnel who have regular maintenance or justifiable reasons to access the roof. Roof hatches are a common means of roof access in commercial buildings like warehouses, hangers, maintenance facilities, and other similar structures. HVAC equipment and exhaust vents are examples of the multitudes of equipment that can be found on almost any commercial roof. That equipment, and anything on the roof (including the roof itself), can be expected to eventually be due for regular or emergency maintenance. If service technicians or inspectors are the only people likely to access a building’s rooftop, ladder & roof hatch access systems are very common & are often familiar with service people across many trades.

Ladder Safety to Access Roof Hatch

Ladders over 24 feet high (or 20 feet in California) used to access a roof hatch system are subject to a recent OSHA 1910.28 update as of November 2018. The update states that all newly installed permanent fixed ladders over 24 feet high (20 feet in California) must have a permanent fall protection system installed. The “cages” that have been commonly seen on fixed ladders for decades are no longer considered as compliant fall protection systems. Ladders installed before November 2018 have until November 2036 to be retrofitted with a compliant ladder safety system. It should be noted that if a ladder must undergo repair or replacement before 2036, the ladder safety system must then be installed at that time. Ladders measuring below the required height(s) are not legally required to have a ladder safety system installed, however, consider that a fall from practically any height could cause injury or fatality to a fallen worker under certain circumstances. If you own a ladder that may be subject to this recent regulation, please consult a local fall protection specialist to determine the best fall protection solution for your application.

Roof Hatch Safety

Once a worker has successfully ascended their ladder, opened their hatch, and emerged onto the rooftop, it must be ensured that the open hatch is promptly closed or has means to barricade workers from accidentally falling through an open hatch door. There are several convenient & affordable solutions available in the marketplace that can adapt to virtually any roof hatch and provide fall protection for workers. An example would be a modular guardrail system permanently installed on the four sides of the hatch door that also supplies a self-closing swing gate to allow easy ingress/egress from the ladder. Other systems available can add functionality to the hatch door itself, like an automatic roof hatch door opener, which can open/close the hatch remotely and free up the hands of the worker ascending/descending the ladder. It is often overlooked that many fixed ladder accidents occur during the dismounting from the ladder to the rooftop and vice-versa. Equipment solutions that protect the worker during that transition period should be preferred.

Rooftop Safety

Equipment maintenance, seasonal cleaning, and repairs are some of the most common reasons workers must spend extended periods on a rooftop. Unless a building is initially designed with high parapet walls to enclose the roof, or guardrail has been installed around the perimeter of the rooftop; fall hazards exist for anyone working on the roof. Also, if there is a concern about equipment or tools being accidentally knocked off the roof, consider adding a toeboard to guardrail solutions. They can be effective in ensuring no material falls off the roof, potentially injuring people, or equipment below.

Every building owner or facility manager should conduct thorough fall protection assessments to identify & evaluate solutions for expected work to be done on their roof, for the immediate future and beyond. Guardrail, or other passive fall protection systems, can provide better fall protection and require little-to-no user input for full effectiveness. Travel restraint or fall arrest systems are viable options as well, but typically require engineering evaluation and comprehensive training for all employees & third-party contractors using the fall protection equipment.

Conclusion

No matter the stage in a building’s life cycle, there are methods available to keep workers safe from falls. Falls continue to be the most common cause of injury & fatality on construction sites and in facilities every year, but that can change. With future worker safety considered during the design & specification stage of a building, or any time worker safety is a concern and measures want to be taken, we can all work towards creating a safer environment for roofing personnel everywhere. At Diversified Fall Protection, our nationwide network of regional fall protection specialists provide valuable insight & education, years of earned industry experience, and proven customer solutions that will help save lives.

About the Author:

Philip Jacklin is Continuing Education Program Manager for Diversified Fall Protection. He is an AIA continuing ed provider, QSSP & OSHA-30 certified, and has been a partner to the fall protection industry since 2018. Philip has a background in customer advocacy, team leadership, and fostering camaraderie among peers. He enjoys playing music, writing, and spending time in the sunshine with his family in Virginia Beach, VA.

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