What Contractors & General Contractors Should Know About Fall Protection

Implementing OSHA-compliant rooftop fall protection solutions is imperative for workers on rooftops, ensuring their safety and enhanced productivity.

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Published on: January 23, 2024

Freedom of movement or rooftop fall protection. Are the two mutually exclusive? Whether for new construction or maintenance and repairs, contractors must often access a wide-ranging area to perform their tasks; however, work on a rooftop presents inherent risks.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction workers represent about 5% of the workforce, yet constitute approximately 18% of workplace fatalities – a total exceeded only by truck drivers. OSHA further reports that falls are part of the “Unfortunate Four” (also including struck by an object, electrocution, and caught in or between an object) that constitute more than 60% of construction-related fatalities.

How can contractors and general contractors make sure that they fulfill their project obligations and provide compliant fall protection for their employees?

Play a Zone Defense

The roof edge is the most apparent hazard, and a worker’s proximity is a significant factor in the possibility of an accident occurring. Based on the distance from the edge, OSHA identifies three zones and the required fall protection.

Zone 1:

When work is performed less than 6 feet from the roof edge, employees must be protected from falling at the roof edge by a guardrail system, or a travel restraint system, or a personal fall arrest system.

Zone 2:

Employees working between 6 and 15 feet from the roof edge must be protected with the same systems as Zone 1; however, a designated area may be implemented when rooftop work is both infrequent (no more than monthly) and temporary (less than two hours).

Zone 3:

Working 15 feet or more from the roof edge has the same criteria as Zone 1 and Zone 2; however, implementation, training, and enforcement of a work rule that prohibits access within 15 feet of the roof edge without using fall protection is allowed. Acceptable protection can include demarcation warning lines, designated areas, control zones, and similar systems.

Guardrails are the first and best line of defense:

For Zone 1 and Zone 2 on flat and low-slope roofs, guardrails are the preferred fall protection method because they protect multiple workers at once without the need for special training. Since permanent guardrails may not be in place on a construction site, contractors that use a freestanding, mobile guardrail system can deliver OSHA-compliant protection to their employees.

The railing system features modular sections that can easily be assembled and disassembled. It is comprised of recycled PVC base weights with pipe-fitted upright posts and horizontal rails that are galvanized for corrosion resistance and can be powder-coated in “safety yellow” or another RAL color.

As a portable guardrail system, it is ideal for contractors because it can be moved where it is needed on the roof and packed up for the next work site. The ease of installation, portability, lower life-cycle costs, and robust and durable construction materials make it superior to erecting temporary wood railings for roof edge fall protection.

Warning lines make a good teammate.

Warning or demarcation lines to designate a safe area can be used in Zone 2 for infrequent and temporary work, such as simple maintenance, and in Zone 3 for tasks performed in less than two hours. They can also be used in conjunction with guardrails for frequent and lengthy work. The guardrails provide the fall protection barrier. The warning line system pinpoints the safe areas for specified jobs or travel.

Like a mobile guardrail, a compliant warning line system has freestanding bases that do not penetrate the roof and galvanized steel upright posts. Stainless steel cables are shackled from one post to another, displaying heavy-duty triangular flags in high-visibility orange.

Which solution is best for you?

If you are a contractor or general contractor responsible for your employees’ fall protection, portable guardrails and warning lines can play a vital role in your safety program, but there is more that you can do. Start by contacting the experts on the engineering side of fall protection. We can discuss your needs and concerns about regulatory compliance, visit your site to conduct a safety audit and map out a plan of action. Our services can include as little or as much as you need, from design, engineering, and fabrication to installation, training, and other support.

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