Why Planning Ahead for Post-Roofing Fall Protection Matters

Incorporating permanent fall protection systems into the overall construction plan benefits workers during the initial construction phase and while conducting building maintenance. Photos: MSA, The Safety Company

The majority of new and existing buildings require safe access to the roof area for ongoing building maintenance, as well as to service equipment such as telecommunications masts, skylights, air conditioning units, elevator machinery, and PV panels.

As such, failing to plan is planning to fail—especially when it comes to incorporating fall protection systems into the design, construction, and maintenance of a facility.

Without question, construction is a high-hazard industry and worker safety is, of course, paramount. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) helps ensure workplace safety standards by requiring fall protection equipment, fall arrest systems, and fall protection training for workers at height in the construction industry.

And yet there are pervasive numbers of architects, builders, general contractors, and building owners who are simply unaware that incorporating fall protection systems into their overall construction plan is not only possible, but highly desirable—not just to the benefit of the construction worker or roofer, but also to the overall building aesthetics, as well as ease and safety of ongoing building maintenance.

When it comes to commercial and infrastructure construction, the most important safety concerns are prevention of fall- and falling object-related accidents. In fact, 100 percent of fall-related accidents are preventable; yet, statistics show that falls are the leading cause of construction-related deaths.

That’s why OSHA holds fall-prevention planning in such high regard, as evidenced by its Fall Prevention Campaign, which urges construction employers to “plan projects to ensure that the job is done safely,” including “how the job will be done, what tasks will be involved, and what safety equipment may be needed to complete each task.”

Planning for, and incorporating, fall protection systems into the building design before construction offers these four key benefits:

  1. It allows for appropriate and proper safety equipment outfitting and training of the worker at height at all phases of construction and maintenance, giving building owners and facility managers peace of mind that maintenance staff have the safety systems they need to carry out their duties.
  2. It maintains the integrity of the original building design, giving architects more aesthetic control over the building.
  3. It saves the cost, confusion, and chaos of retrofitting buildings with OSHA-required at-height fall protection systems, allowing for the planning and implementation of high-quality, versatile systems.
  4. It protects roof structures from potential damage caused by post-construction add-on systems.

Mitigating Risk

From trips to slips, and from falls to fatalities, the most often cited OSHA fall-related violations involve skylights, steep-slope roofs, and unprotected edges.

To reduce risk, it is imperative to plan and implement a comprehensive, engineered fall protection system specific to the building design. Components may include such fall-protection products as:

  • Designated walkway systems
  • Energy-absorbing force posts
  • Engineered horizontal lifelines
  • Fall arrest systems and fall limiters
  • Fixed ladder fall protection
  • Guardrail systems
  • Hands-free anchors
  • Overhead protection systems
  • Safety net systems
  • Self-retracting lifelines
  • Vertical lifeline systems

Training everyone on the proper use of safety systems is a crucial part of the process. Remember, workers at height are always at risk of falling, and it’s your job to protect them. Early-stage planning helps make sure that the systems used are perfectly integrated into the building to not only protect the worker but also to seamlessly fit with the building design.

Best Practices

Here are some best practice recommendations when planning an engineered fall protection system:

  • Start early. Your in-house specification team should work with your solutions provider to assess your building’s unique installation requirements.
  • Design to requirements. Ask your solutions provider to design a system that meets both pre- and post-construction requirements. Stipulate that your provider help with CAD concepts, working drawings, and plans, as necessary.
  • Confirm the approach. Request a “checking service” to make sure that the recommended approach is the absolute best available for your particular application.
  • Ensure versatility. Since access requirements vary by build or retrofit, make sure your solutions provider has the ability to adapt to a wide range of roofing shapes, materials, and contours.
  • Confirm safe access post-construction. While construction-related safety is important, it’s also critical to ensure total safety for workers with a system that allows safe access to the finished roof.
  • Consider building aesthetics. Ask your safety solutions provider to consider form as well as function; namely the appearance of the building and surrounding areas. For example, components of safety systems, such as bodies and base plates of our posts, can be powder-coated to soften their appearance against the roofing material.

When specifying fall protection systems, make sure you consider all aspects of a well-engineered system, from quality, versatility and lifespan, to aesthetic appeal, teamwork, and innovation.

About the Author: Anne Osbourn is an Industrial Marketing Manager at MSA, The Safety Company, http://us.msasafety.com.

Contractual Risk Shifting, Workers’ Compensation and You

During the process of negotiating construction contracts, contractors often use certain clauses to shift the risk of loss onto subcontractors who may have less bargaining power. How do they do this? Most commonly through the use of indemnity and waiver of subrogation clauses. While these clauses apply in a variety of situations, they are particularly concerning with regard to workers’ compensation insurance.

All states have mandatory workers’ compensation statutes. These statutes make employers strictly liable for employee injuries on the job. Strict liability means liability without fault. Therefore, an injured employee of a subcontractor can recover damages from the subcontractor’s workers’ compensation carrier even if a third party is 100 percent at fault for the injury.

What Is Subrogation?

Subrogation arises when an innocent party incurs damages attributable to the fault of another. This most commonly applies when an insurance carrier pays an insured loss and subrogates to the rights—or “stands in the shoes”—of the injured party in recovering against the responsible party. This doctrine is based on equitable principles, primarily to prevent the at-fault party from escaping liability. Makes sense, right? Then how does a subcontractor waive subrogation?

Here’s a sample waiver of subrogation provision:
Subcontractor hereby waives all right of recovery against the Contractor, the Owner and their respective officers, directors, employees, agents and representatives with respect to claims covered by insurance obtained pursuant to insurance requirements under this Subcontract. The Subcontractor agrees to cause its Workers’ Compensation, General Liability and Automobile Insurance carrier to waive their rights of subrogation against the Contractor, Owner and their respective officers, directors, employees, agents and representatives.

Here’s an example:
A subcontractor’s employee is injured by the sole negligence of the contractor. The subcontractor’s workers’ compensation carrier pays out statutory damages to the injured employee. Pursuant to the waiver of subrogation clause, the subcontractor and its carrier have no right to recover the losses from the contractor.

What is the practical effect? The subcontractor suffers the consequences of the contractor’s sole negligence. How? The subcontractor’s experience modification rate (EMR) goes up. What else goes up with the EMR? Premiums!

What Is Indemnification?

Indemnification requires one party to pay damages to another, sometimes without regard to who was actually at fault. These types of clauses often include language requiring the subcontractor to “defend and hold harmless” the contractor, which puts the additional burden on the subcontractor of incurring fees and expenses for the contractor’s legal defense. There are generally three types of indemnity clauses: broad, intermediate and limited.

A broad indemnity clause requires the subcontractor to pay loss or damage regardless of who is at fault, even if the damage is caused by the sole negligence of the contractor. This is the most onerous type of indemnity clause because it shifts the entire risk to the subcontractor.

Here’s a sample broad indemnity provision:
Subcontractor shall indemnify, defend and hold harmless the Contractor, Architect and Owner against all liability claims, judgment or demands for damages and expenses, including, but not limited to, reasonable attorneys’ fees, arising from accidents to persons or property arising out of or resulting from the performance of the work.

An intermediate indemnity clause requires the subcontractor to pay loss or damage for its own sole or partial negligence. Some intermediate indemnity provisions require the subcontractor to pay the entire loss or damage while others only require the subcontractor to pay its pro rata share of the loss or damage.

Finally, a limited indemnity clause only requires the subcontractor to pay loss or damage that is the sole responsibility of the subcontractor.

How do indemnity and subrogation interplay? When the subcontract has abroad indemnity clause and a waiver of subrogation clause.

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Zurich Helps Risk Managers Understand Challenges and Solutions of Photovoltaic Systems

As businesses across the world increasingly are turning to green technology for lowering energy costs and reducing their own carbon footprints, Zurich is working to help risk managers understand the risks associated with photovoltaic (PV) solar panel systems and how they can protect themselves from those risks. Key information related to the risks and challenges and recommended solutions was recently released in a Zurich RiskTopics white paper on photovoltaic systems, available at RiskTopics – Photovoltaic Systems.

Photovoltaic systems are designed to supply usable electric power for a variety of purposes, using the sun as the power source. When installed on or integrated into existing building components, the systems have unique characteristics that can introduce a variety of potential challenges and risks.

“Solar PV system use has increased three-fold over the last three years, which means more and more businesses need to understand the risks associated with them in order to help protect their property and business operations,” said Mike Widdekind, Technical Director – Property for Zurich Services Corporation. “We have developed the Photovoltaic Systems RiskTopics white paper specifically to provide detailed information to help our customers make necessary decisions about hazards associated with PV operations.”

Fire-related risks are among the top challenges associated with PV systems. They have more fire ignition sources and present more opportunity for fires to occur beyond the reach of standard fire protection and fire detection systems. Also, when a building fire requires firefighting activities, firefighters typically turn off all sources of electric power to the building. However, when PV systems are involved, a complete shutdown of electric power may not be possible since the PV panels continue to generate current from either daytime sunlight or even night time fire service scene lighting.

Risk managers also need to be aware of unexpected structural loads not anticipated by codes and standards such as snow or ice loads that accumulate in shaded areas below panels. When PV panel systems are installed on low slope – or flat – roofs, snow accumulations on panels will melt which can refreeze and may develop into unexpected ice accumulation, and over time might event result in building collapse.

In addition, PV solar panel systems can be vulnerable to wind loads and susceptible to damage caused by wind borne debris. Zurich has been especially involved in the impact wind has on solar panels through its active participation as a member of Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s (IBHS) Research Advisory Council. At Zurich’s recommendation, IBHS is currently testing the impacts of wind on solar panels and will apply the learnings from the study to help customers build more resilient communities around the world.

Zurich’s RiskTopics white paper identifies unresolved challenges as well as provides possible solutions to issues related to PV systems, and recommends that commercial building managers and risk managers try to avoid the installation or integration of photovoltaic systems onto or into buildings until the challenges and risks associated with this system are fully understood and addressed.