Courtesy of Diversified Fall Protection
Guardrails are one way to keep people safe on your roof.

The Importance of Rooftop Fall Protection for Building Owners and Facility Managers

Dec. 1, 2023
Is your roof a safe place to be? Understand the nuances of rooftop safety by knowing the specific regulations that govern it.

Building owners and facility managers are not just caretakers of the structures they oversee, but also the custodians of safety for everyone who interacts with these buildings. While the interiors of a building might be safe, what about its roof?

The rooftops, often overlooked, pose significant risks if not adequately addressed. But to truly understand the nuances of rooftop safety, you need to know the specific regulations that govern it

1910 vs. 1926: The Difference

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is at the forefront of ensuring worker safety across various industries within the United States. Under OSHA's vast umbrella of regulations, two standards often come up in discussions related to building safety: 1910 and 1926.

1910: The General Industry Safety Standard

OSHA's 1910 standards are designed for the general industry. They cover safety measures across a broad spectrum of industries, from manufacturing to services. For a building owner or a facility manager, the 1910 standard is particularly pertinent. It encompasses safety protocols for maintenance, repairs and general operations of an existing structure. Regular maintenance and minor tasks like equipment fixes typically align with general industry standards.

1926: The Construction Safety Standard

The 1926 standards, however, are specialized for the construction industry. They focus on the unique risks and challenges faced during the construction of new structures or significant renovations. While these are crucial for construction site managers, they are less relevant for facility managers overseeing already constructed buildings. However, significant repairs or overhauls are usually categorized as construction, thus requiring compliance with the construction standards.

With these regulations in mind, understanding how they apply to low-slope roofs is critical for anyone managing a building.  

1910.28: Safety on Low-Slope Roofs

When it comes to roofs, the slope can significantly influence the safety measures required. The 1910.28(b) regulation sets specific guidelines for safety while working on low-slope roofs. OSHA defines a low-slope roof as a roof having a slope of less than or equal to 4 inches of vertical rise for every 12 inches of horizontal length. These roofs are commonly found in commercial buildings, warehouses and some modern residential designs. Unfortunately, a common misconception is that low-slope roofs don’t pose a falling risk due to their lack of a steep incline.

Less than 6 Feet from the Edge

When tasks are carried out closer than 6 feet to the edge of the roof, it's the employer's responsibility to guarantee the safety of every employee. Protective measures, such as guardrails, safety nets, travel restraints or personal fall arrest systems, must be implemented to prevent falls.

Between 6 and 15 Feet from the Edge

For tasks carried out from 6 feet to just under 15 feet from the roof's edge, employers are mandated to protect their employees. They can employ protective measures such as guardrails, safety nets, travel restraint systems or personal fall arrest systems. However, if the work in this zone is occasional and short-term, employers have the flexibility to simply utilize a designated area as a protective measure.

Beyond 15 Feet from the Edge

For tasks conducted at a distance of 15 feet or more from the roof's edge, employers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their workers. This can mean providing protective measures such as guardrails, safety nets, travel restraint systems, personal fall arrest systems or creating designated areas. Employers must firmly implement and uphold a rule that forbids workers from nearing within 15 feet of the roof's edge unless they are equipped with the appropriate fall protection.

While maintaining safety on the building's roof surface is essential, ensuring the safety of those working on a building's exterior walls is equally critical.

1910.27: Suspended Maintenance Anchors

Every multistory building faces the challenge of how to maintain its external facade. Window cleaning, exterior painting and other tasks often require workers to dangle high above the ground, tethered to anchors. Suspended maintenance anchors are fixed points on the exterior of buildings, designed to support the weight of workers and their equipment as they perform tasks while suspended from the building's facade.

Rigorous Inspection

Imagine a scenario where a worker, suspended several stories high, is relying on an anchor that's corroded. To prevent such potentially catastrophic situations, it's crucial to inspect these anchors thoroughly before every job. Checking for wear and tear, damage, corrosion or any other issues can make a difference between a safe work environment and a perilous one.

Annual Certification

A building undergoes various changes over the year, be it weather-induced wear or structural shifts. To ensure the anchors remain fit, a qualified individual must certify them annually. This isn't just a cursory lookover but involves a detailed assessment of the anchor's stability and durability.

Load-Testing

Over time, even the sturdiest of materials can weaken, and what was once safe might now be a hazard. Every 10 years, these anchors must be subjected to load tests. This means applying force to the anchor, simulating the weight and strain it might typically experience, and ensuring it can still hold up under pressure.

Understanding the rules is only the beginning; effectively implementing them requires expertise.

The Power of Expertise in Addressing Rooftop Safety

Knowing the regulations is one thing, but application in the real world, especially where safety is concerned, requires a more profound expertise. By collaborating with fall protection specialists, building managers can benefit from tailored assessments of their rooftop structures, routine inspections to pinpoint risks, expert maintenance of vital engineering documents and the most current insights on safety standards.

Remember, rooftop safety isn't solely about meeting regulations; it's about guaranteeing a secure environment. Don't merely comply; prioritize the safety of every individual on your rooftop. Embrace your responsibility and seek expert guidance for the highest standards of safety.

About the Author

Dustin H. Schneider

With 25 years of industrial sales and training experience including 15 years as a Fall Protection Specialist with both Capital Safety, and 3M; Dustin now leads a team of Fall Protection Specialists for Diversified Fall Protection. He has completed certifications in CHST, OSHA 500/510, Fall Protection Competent Person, Confined Space Competent Person, SPRAT Rescue, ADT Master Trainer certification. Dustin is also a qualified person in fall protection and fall training.

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