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How Owners Should Comply With OSHA Roofing Safety Guidelines

Is your roof marked with a raised warning line at 15 feet from the edge? You’re violating Occupational Safety and Hyg Administration (OSHA), roofing standards.

Are you using skylights? Do they have guardrails or any other protection system? OSHA recommends that they do. Similar to roof hatches.

These are just some examples of OSHA’s new roofing safety guidelines, which were introduced in January 2017. These guidelines require employers to protect employees from falling objects and falls.

This means that the employer is responsible for installing roof protection measures to protect everyone who climbs on their roofs. Employers could be fined for failing to do so. . . or worse.

Here are some roofing safety tips that OSHA has provided. The illustrated examples are mostly from a 24-building campus-wide roofing safety assessment and related upgrades that Legat Architects conducted for one of Illinois’ largest community colleges.

Detail from the roofing safety assessment. Red means a warning line. Drains must be within six feet of the roof edge. Ladders may need guardrails.

The Roofing Safety Zones

OSHA has identified three work zones for low-slope roofs that have unprotected edges four feet or higher than a lower level.

One of the following is required for the EXTREMELY HIGH ZONE (less than six feet from the roof edge’s edge).

  • Guardrail system
  • Safety net system
  • Personal fall protection systems (e.g. personal fall arrest, travel restraints, positioning system)
  • Parapet 42 inches high

You should take the same precautions for the VERY HIGH DANGER ZONE (6 to 15 feet away from the edge). In rare and temporary cases, building owners may choose to use a designated area (not just a line on a roof) instead.

All roof systems that need maintenance should be located within the HIGH-DANGER ZONE (at least 15 feet from the edge) in the middle of the building. This area provides a first-line defense and a warning line measuring 15 feet. It is not possible to simply paint a line on a roof in the Midwest. The first light snow would cover it. It should be between 39 and 42 inches in height. Lines are usually yellow to indicate to roofers that they shouldn’t cross it without OSHA-required restraints.

OSHA recommends that fall protection systems be used in the high-danger zone. If the work is “infrequent” and only temporary, fall protection is not necessary. Employers must enforce strict rules prohibiting workers from crossing the 15-foot warning line.

Guardrails create a walkway between a 15-foot warning line and a ladder at a roof’s edge.

Guardrails and ladders

Guardrails are a popular option for roofing safety. Guardrails should be installed at least six feet from the roof edge. Guardrails should be installed six feet from the roof’s edge if you have a condenser unit or other maintenance item.

Placing bright yellow guardrails around the roof’s perimeter can be unsightly. There are ways to achieve OSHA guidelines without doing so. For instance, galvanized rails are less visually intrusive. See the larger photo above.

Guardrails can also pose a problem for aesthetics. Some building owners place bright yellow rails around their roof perimeter. Although it meets OSHA standards, it often looks like the facility has been under construction. Alternative products are available that can help building owners comply with OSHA standards while also avoiding the eyesore.

OSHA requires that ladders with a height of 24 feet or more must have a fall arrest system attached (e.g. ladder safety system, cage, and well). This applies to new and existing ladders. This requirement must be met by November 18, 2036.

Guardrails and cages are two options for skylight safety. Frosted skylight glass prevents those on the inside from seeing the safety devices.

Roof hatches require rails on three sides—the hatch cover protects the fourth side. This allows the employee to put one hand on a side rail while using the other to open the gate.

Roof Hatches and Skylights

Protective or guardrail systems are required for roof hatches, skylights, and any other hole that is four feet above the ground. Cages are often used for skylights. They can be ugly. They are affordable and easy to use. Many skylights are made of frosted glass so people inside can’t see the cages. I recommend that building owners be cautious about skylights that meet OSHA safety requirements–product literature often states these skylights still need fall protection.

Two popular fall arrest systems are the stationary option (left) and the one-person carts (right) that weigh more than 700 pounds and can be moved around a large roof area.

Another option for safe roofs is to use fall arrest or restraint systems. . . Particularly for those with multiple openings. Employees can be free to move and attach to a cart for one person. The device will dig into the roof if the employee falls. You’ll need to repair it, but not a serious injury.

Employees can also benefit from stationary fall protection systems. The costs of both mobile and stationary systems are comparable, so the mobile may be the best option, as it offers more flexibility.

The roof davit is another fall restraint system. It provides personnel with a cable to attach to. They must be tested at least once every ten years.

Achieving OSHA roofing safety requirements does not mean that your building needs to look like a construction site. This community college facility meets OSHA guidelines, yet the fall prevention and restraint systems blend in.

The Height of Roofing Safety

According to the U.S. Department of Labor in 2017, 381 (39%%) of 971 construction-related fatalities were caused by falls. . . Falls that could have been prevented by the proper safety systems. These statistics have led OSHA to ask building owners for more stringent safety measures.

This post was written by Reggie Reed! Reggie is a state-certified roofing contractor and co-owner of Reggie Reed Roofing. He is a 4th generation roofing contractor. RR Roofing offers a wide variety of roofing services for residential homes, apartment complexes, condos, commercial buildings, churches, and more. Reggie enjoys dedicating his spare time to helping underprivileged youth in his community and traveling with his family and friends. Click here for more information!