Published on: November 21, 2023
The best property owners and managers of commercial, institutional, and industrial facilities take great pride in their buildings. They want the structures conducive to a productive work environment and attractive and comfortable for customers and other visitors. Above all, they have a legal duty to ensure their premises are safe for everyone.
Fall protection is a critical aspect of safety. Workers on the roof who service the heating and cooling systems that maintain proper building temperatures face multiple hazards. Window washers on suspended platforms or lifelines are especially at risk as they keep the windows clean and the building “camera-ready.” Even on the ground level, proper measures must be taken to help prevent falls. After all, who hasn’t taken a fall to the ground at least once during their lifetime?
Let’s start at the top.
As stated, there are multiple hazards on the roof, not the least of which is the roof edge. On a flat or low-slope roof, there is no better fall protection than a perimeter guardrail system because it protects any number of workers “collectively” without needing special equipment, training, or inspections.
If the work on the roof is at least 15 feet away from the edge—and the tasks are infrequent and temporary—a warning line demarcation system is an acceptable way to keep employees from straying near the roof edge. Skylights are considered holes in the roof by OSHA and are not necessarily capable of supporting the weight of one person. Skylight screens or railings surrounding the skylight are effective means of fall protection.
Other helpful safety measures for traversing the roof include horizontal lifelines and roof walkways. A horizontal lifeline is a stainless steel cable system supported every 30 feet with lengths spanning up to 500 feet or more. It can accommodate multiple workers. A modular roof walkway system can be installed on flat or sloped roofs (up to 35 degrees) and features anti-slip treads. It protects the roof surface from foot traffic and guides workers on the roof to authorized areas.
On the descent.
The front, back, and sides are the most visible aspects of the building envelope, and façade cleaning, repair, maintenance, and window washing are regular tasks often conducted by workers using rope descent systems (RDS).
According to OSHA 1910.27(b), an RDS enables a worker to descend in a controlled manner and stop at any time during the descent. It consists of a support rope, a descent device, carabiners or shackles, a seat board, and a roof anchor. The anchorage system required—OSHA 1910.27(b)(1)(i)—must be identified, tested, certified, and maintained so that each anchor can support 5,000 pounds in any direction.
Either a fixed roof anchor post or a mobile roof anchor system will meet these requirements. The anchors must be inspected annually by a qualified person and recertified by a qualified person at least every ten years.
Now, let’s get down to earth.
While maintenance and repair workers are busy on the roof or sides of the building, everyone else is entering from the ground floor, where safety railing systems provide fall protection along walkways, ramps, and stairs.
Guardrails are also installed inside the building, including stairs, mezzanines, decks, and cordoned-off restricted areas. Authorized access to the areas behind the railing is best done with a self-closing gate.
Although not quite the elevation of a roof, employees inside the building may have reason to work at height. For example, they are servicing large machinery and equipment or reaching inventory on tall racks and shelves. Work platforms present the ideal safety solution. They are constructed of strong steel or aluminum frames, pipe-fitted railings, and anti-slip treads for steps and floors. The platforms can be set on heavy-duty casters for multi-use mobility, static platforms for a specific workstation, or engineered to order.
Which solution is best for you?
If you are an owner or property or building manager responsible for the safety of employees and visitors, contact Flexible Lifeline Systems. 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.