Failure to provide proper fall protection consistently ranks among OSHA’s top 10 most cited violations; in 2008, it was second only to scaffolding. In accordance with OSHA standards, fall protection must be provided any time a worker is at a height of 6 feet or more in the construction industry. So whether a worker installs a new roof or climbs atop a building to perform routine maintenance, some form of fall protection is required.
Workers face many challenges on rooftops, including rain and moisture that create slippery conditions, wind, which can knock you off balance, and sudden noises, which can startle a worker and cause a fall. Complacency is also a considerable danger. Some workers choose to skip donning a harness and tying off based on the excuse, “I’ve done this a thousand times.” But it only takes one fall to end a roofer’s career.
Fall protection can come in a number of forms, including a fall restraint system or a personal fall arrest system. The type of system best suited to the application depends on a number of factors, including the location of the work on the rooftop and the degree of horizontal mobility required. A fall restraint system, which prevents the worker from reaching the edge of the roof, is best suited for maintenance jobs that can be performed close to the center of the roof in a general area. Personal fall arrest systems must be used if the worker needs to perform a task near the edge of the roof where the potential to fall is increased. Personal fall arrest systems, especially permanent engineered systems, are also ideal for inspections where a great deal of mobility is required.
The material of the roof is also a factor in specifying which type of fall protection equipment to use for a fall restraint or a fall arrest system. The four most common roofing materials are concrete, membrane, metal and wood. Each material requires different fall protection equipment to be used, especially when it comes to anchorage devices. The slope of the roof is another factor to consider when choosing the appropriate fall protection equipment for the job.
Anchors are the most challenging aspect to specify for fall restraint and fall arrest systems on rooftops. You must decide between temporary and permanent systems and penetrating and freestanding systems. Each of these decisions is based on the material and slope of the roof, and the job at hand.
When working on a concrete roof, you need to confirm the strength, thickness and proximity to joints or edges. Most anchors require concrete that is at least rated 3,000 PSI to properly secure the anchor. Whether you have a temporary or permanent application, look for a single point, swiveling D-ring anchor that provides a simple, versatile and safe anchor that can easily be installed into holes made using standard drill bits. The anchor should provide a connection point that swivels 360 degrees for safety and usability. Look for a D-ring anchor that is reusable simply by installing a new bolt. If the job is on a leading edge of a roof with low or no slope, use a freestanding, non-penetrating anchor with overhead anchorage connections.
Many commercial buildings have membrane-type roofs, especially in the northern part of the country. They are often flat or have a low slope, which can be difficult to attach to as the structural members are often buried beneath layers of insulation.
Membrane-style roofs require anchors that are designed to provide a true waterproof seal when connected to the roof. Look for a zinc-plated base with a specially designed shock-absorbing base to better distribute the force exerted on the anchor and roof in the event of a fall. The zinc-plated base will also help facilitate the waterproof seal. Installation of this type of anchor is extremely fast and easy by core drilling down through the metal or wood sheathing and fastening toggle bolts from the top of the roof. Once installed, the same material used for the membrane can cover the base and weather-seal the two together to ensure integrity.
Standing seam and corrugated roofs are the two most common forms of metal roofs. When purchasing anchors, make sure they are compatible for the type of metal roof you are working on. Metal is much thinner than other roofing materials, so it is important to use an anchor specifically made for use on a metal roof to keep forces to a minimum. Anchors designed for metal roofs have special fasteners and shock-absorbing posts to distribute forces evenly to the roof structure to ensure a solid attachment to the roof surface itself.
Manufacturers have anchors specifically made to work with various types of metal roofs, such as corrugated steel and standing seam, in which case the anchors have adjustable legs to fit in the seam spacing. For mobility on a standing seam roofs, use an anchor with built-in clamps that have 360-degree swivel feature for added mobility.
If horizontal mobility is not required, a temporary or permanent roof anchor can be used. Shock-absorption technology is available in some permanent roof anchors. When fall arrest forces are exerted on the anchor, the stanchion tips over to distribute the forces to the base and fasteners in a shear direction rather than a pull-out direction. This keeps the worker safe and preserves the structure of the roof. This type of anchor is ideal for use on corrugated metal roofs.
Wood roofs most often have asphalt and shingles attached and have a steep slope. You should always use a fall arrest system while working on steep-slope roofs, as there is a potential to fall at any point on a sloped roof. The peak is an advantage to working on a heavily sloped roof, because it allows for more force to be exerted directly to the roof structure. For a temporary anchor, use a hinged roof anchor that consists of a forged D-ring attached to a steel base. To install, the base is nailed to the roof structure and the D-ring is used for connection of the fall arrest system. If more than one worker will be on the roof, look for a swiveling roof anchor that allows for 360-degree movement for maximum mobility and multiple D-rings for several workers to tie off at the same time.
A horizontal lifeline system is best when horizontal mobility is needed while connected to an anchor. A horizontal lifeline is a cable that spans the length of a work surface, which allows the worker to attach a connective device to his harness and tie off to the cable. Lifeline systems can be temporary or permanent, and they keep productivity high, as workers do not need to frequently disconnect and reconnect to other anchorage points. If horizontal mobility is required for the job, a temporary or permanent roof anchor can be used.
Based on anchorage selection specific to the roof’s material, harnesses and connectors are fairly simple to specify. The main differences in the harnesses on the market involve the quality level, durability and comfort they offer the worker. Harnesses are available to meet a variety of requirements. If cost effectiveness is a top consideration, select a simple harness with basic features. Most won’t include the features of the higher-end harnesses, like padding, but they ensure compliance at value prices. Higher-end harnesses offer advantages through features such as advanced padding technology, lanyard holders and stand-up D-rings to ensure maximum comfort and prevent fatigue. These features contribute to higher productivity.
Connectors play a vital role in the amount of mobility given to the worker. If the worker requires less than 6 feet of mobility, use a shock-absorbing lanyard. For more than 6 feet, use a self-retracting lifeline. If cost is a factor, lanyards are a better option. Although they are more economical, they do not allow for much mobility, which results in the worker needing to disconnect and reconnect to other anchors more frequently, decreasing productivity. Consider using a positioning lanyard when working on flat roofs where the worker does not need to access areas close to potential fall hazards.
There is no excuse for failure to provide proper fall protection while performing roofing work. Many of the frequently cited issues include mobility, cost, productivity and damage to the building. These excuses are no longer relevant as fall protection designers and manufacturers continue to provide products that are customized for all types of roofing structures and materials. The user should always consult with the manufacturer to be sure it is the right product for the job. Help keep your workers safe at height by providing appropriate fall protection and reinforcing the importance of its use.