Fall protection in the workplace receives a lot of attention, as it is the most frequently cited OSHA standard, and falls to a lower level accounted for 574 work-related fatalities in 2013. These falls occur in many circumstances, and understandably, personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) are often implemented to protect against falls in many workplaces.
Some falls, such as falls through skylights, can be better prevented using structural barriers, though. These barriers like railings or screens may not look necessary—skylights usually have glass or opaque plastic coverings—but skylights are not always designed to withstand the weight of a falling person. After years spent in the sun, these skylight coverings may also weaken further, making a dangerous fall more likely.
In fiscal year 2013, at least 10 workers fell through skylights and were fatally injured, so any measures that can be used to prevent these accidents should be put in place.
According to OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(4), employers must protect workers around holes such as skylights that are more than six feet above the ground or a lower level. In addition to considering the use of personal fall arrest systems, structural barriers deserve consideration, as these devices can significantly reduce falling hazards in the work area.
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Flexible Lifeline Systems, a Texas-based company that specializes in fall protection solutions, is an example of a business that offers many options for preventing falls from heights. Their flexible skylight guard was first developed in response to an alert from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) calling on industries to do what they could to prevent falls through skylights and roof openings.
Skylight Guards – Simple But Effective
The Model A-SM1 Flexible Skylight Guard pictured here is designed for use with acrylic dome skylights (like those in the image below). These dome skylights can break under the weight of a person (as seen in this video from the California Department of Public Health detailing an accident that occurred during roof work). By installing a welded steel wire mesh guard, workplaces can prevent people from touching the acrylic. If someone trips and falls, they’ll land on the wire mesh, which can hold more than the weight of a person.
Flexible Lifeline Systems calls these guards “passive protection” because workers on roofs won’t need to take any action to be protected. To receive the protection of a skylight screen, workers won’t need to recognize hazards or don PFAS. These skylight guards will always be present.
Skylights – Underestimated Hazards
In many cases, workers assume skylights aren’t that dangerous. These openings are often small in size (compared to the size of a large warehouse roof, for example) and people assume they will not trip or step through one. (This was the case in a fatal accident in 2011 in British Columbia where a residential construction worker fell through an unguarded skylight to a tile floor almost 18 feet below).
Remember, though, that accidents can happen quickly. In some cases, skylights aren’t visible. In snowy climates, for example, skylights get covered in snow, and this has led to fatal accidents on more than one occasion when a worker who didn’t see a snow-covered skylight stepped through it.
Think about installing structural barriers to prevent falls through skylights ahead of time. That way any workers on your facility’s roof will automatically have some protection. In the long run, the cost of skylight guards will be worthwhile and prevent many possible accidents.
If you’re looking for additional fall protection for workers, consider personal fall arrest systems, too.
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- OSHA Facts– creativesafetysupply.com
- An Employer’s Introduction to Fall Protection for Residential Construction Projects– blog.creativesafetysupply.com
- Prevent Slips and Falls with Anti-Slip Floor Tape– creativesafetypublishing.com
- How to Fall Safely (and Avoid Falling in the First Place)– babelplex.com
- How to Use a Personal Fall Arrest System– realsafety.org
- Anti-Slip Floor Tape Prevents Slips and Falls– floor-tape.com