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Answers to Your Biggest Roof Safety Issues

Posted by Art Valentz on March 31, 2015

Rooftop-Safety--1677305Safety should be a primary concern in all areas of a commercial building. And your roof is an especially important area to implement safety protocols. In addition to building maintenance personnel, other individuals including contractors and repair people, security guards, insurance agents, inspectors, and window washers may all need access to your roof from time to time. Having a rooftop safety protocol in place will help prevent unnecessary accidents and their accompanying financial costs.

Here are some of the top roof safety concerns, along with solutions to consider:

1. Unauthorized Access

Keeping unauthorized people off the roof is much easier than ensuring their safety once they are there.  Access to the roof should be restricted. Keep any doorway leading to the roof locked. If you are operating a hotel, a shopping center, or other public facility you may also want to locate a surveillance camera in the area. Even the presence of a mock camera can deter would-be explorers from venturing onto the roof. Additionally, having a pre established list of who can and cannot be on the roof will help to mitigate future issues.

2. Falling From the Roof

The biggest danger inherent on roofs is simply the distance to the ground. Many commercial buildings are high enough that falling from them is most likely to be fatal. Here are some ways to prevent such a tragedy: 

  • Inspect work surfaces for structural integrity. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that any work surfaces are capable of supporting the weight of the workers.
  • Establish warning lines and controlled access zones. A warning line should be established at least 6 feet from any unprotected edge.
  • Establish designated work areas. Routine maintenance work should take place at least 15 feet from an unprotected edge. Equipment must also have a 15 foot clearance to any unprotected edge.
  • Provide fall protection devices. Any leading edge that is 6 feet or more above the next lower level is required by OSHA to be equipped with guardrails, safety nets, or other fall protection devices. If workers must work close to an unprotected edge, provide them with fall restraint devices such as harnesses. These should be securely fastened to an anchor point to prevent the individual from hitting the ground in the event of a fall.
  • Develop a fall protection plan. In the event that fall protection devices are not practical on the site, a written fall protection plan should be developed.

OSHA addresses rooftop fall protection in their CFR 1926 standard. Specifically, CFR1926, Subpart M, section 500 covers many of the aspects of fall protection that apply to a rooftop environment. We highly recommend studying the OSHA roof safety requirements thoroughly in order to keep falls to a minimum.

3. Slipping on Rooftop Surfaces  

A slippery roof is a dangerous roof. If the surface of your roof is slippery, you may need to establish designated walkways lined with non-slip material. If this is impossible, be sure to post warnings and supply workers with appropriate safety devices. Walkways, platforms, stairs, and ramps are also a good idea to install in order to provide your maintenance professionals with easy access to equipment.

4. Heatstroke

A standard dark asphalt or rubber roof can reach temperatures in excess of 150° on a hot summer day. This poses a real danger to anyone working on the roof. It is a good idea to schedule routine maintenance and inspections during cooler times of the year or day. If rooftop repairs must take place under extremely hot conditions, monitor workers closely for heat-related illness. Hosing the roof down with cool water if possible may help prevent undue heat exposure. For a longer-term solution, consider a light-colored “cool” roof when it is time for roof replacement. 

5. Winter Woes

Snow accumulations on a flat roof can cause serious roof safety issues and can damage a building’s structure. This is especially true of older commercial buildings in northern climates. Before energy efficiency became a big concern, buildings were often designed to let the rising heat of the building melt off the snow load. Added insulation can result in snow accumulations heavy enough to cause roof collapse. Before adding insulation to a roof, have a structural engineer inspect the structure, and reinforce as necessary.

It is often necessary to remove snow from rooftops in areas that receive heavy snow. Be sure snow equipment is easily accessible, and mark designated work areas in such a way that they are visible above the snow line. You will also need to ensure that snow blown or pushed off the roof does not cause injury or damage below.

Built up ice can also pose safety hazards. Falling ice can harm people and property, and the ice itself can damage the building as it melts and refreezes. Rooftop ice dams and icicles usually indicate poor energy efficiency. Properly insulating and air sealing before the cold season begins can save significant heating expense as well as mitigating danger. If the ice is already present, it may be necessary to place safety tape around an area prone to falling ice until the danger is past.

Roof Safety Training

In addition, proper training is an essential element of rooftop safety. OSHA’s Fall Prevention Campaign recommends a 3-step “plan, provide, train” approach:

  • Plan ahead to anticipate and avoid safety hazards on your roof
  • Provide workers with the appropriate equipment for the specific jobs they will be performing. For instance, is a ladder the best thing for the job or would scaffolding be a better choice?
  • Train personnel in safe use of equipment and safe conduct while working in a rooftop environment.  

Incorporating these ideas into your roof safety routine, along with additional measures such as developing a safety checklist and implementing a buddy system for rooftop visits, can go a long way toward preventing accidents on your roof.

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Topics: Roofing Maintenance, Roof Safety

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