Much has been written about the importance of fall protection in the roofing industry. According to OSHA, falls from heights remain the single leading cause of injuries and fatalities in the industry and across the board. Employers and builders have heard the message loud and clear and have adopted a number of strategies and systems designed to protect workers from fall hazards.
Of course, the gold standard for personal fall protection equipment is to tie off to an overhead anchorage point, which means having an elevated anchor point to attach to. However, this may not be possible in roofing applications, especially in residential roofing.
Whether you employ measures for fall restraint (systems designed to prevent workers from being exposed to a fall hazard) or fall arrest (systems designed to arrest an uncontrolled fall) depends on the application and the conditions of your jobsite. Residential and commercial roofing present two distinct challenges as worksites that can expose workers to fall hazards. It is worth exploring how to think about providing fall safety in each application and what type of equipment is best suited for each.
On residential roofing projects, you’re more likely to want to work in fall restraint rather than a fall arrest system. The main reason is because the fall clearance distances tend to be smaller in residential settings. OSHA requires the free fall distance — the distance from the start of a fall to when the fall arrest system engages — to be no great than 6 feet. Typically, overhead tie-off is not available in residential roofing applications and the fall clearance distance at most residential roofing jobsites isn’t enough to support a foot-level tie-off. Foot-level tie-off often requires a 16-foot to 21-foot fall clearance distance, so workers at sites with less clearance will be required to use fall restraint.
Common anchors for residential roofing applications include a reusable or permanent roof anchor mounted to the truss. If you’re working on a finished roof with standing seam roof material, you can use a temporary standing seam roof anchor.
To these anchors you can attach restraints such as:
• A vertical lifeline assembly. Using this system, you should give workers enough slack so that they cannot reach the edge of the roof.
• A 4-foot to 6-foot adjustable non-shock absorbing restraint lanyard.
In commercial roofing work, fall clearance is usually not a limiting factor, giving you a great deal more flexibility to use fall arrest systems tied off to appropriate anchor points. A simple 12-inch to 18-inch permanent anchor is one option. For low-slope flat roofs you might also opt for a four-way anchor plate; this is a penetrating anchor that goes into the roof substrate. If you need a temporary solution for parapet walls, you can use parapet anchors.
Newer builds are often required to install fall protection anchors, so many will have anchor points to tie off to already in place. For older buildings without these permanent built-in anchor points, consider using temporary anchorage to avoid damaging the substrate and having to reroof.
With suitable anchors in place at the commercial roofing jobsite, you can use any of the following:
• A leading edge self-retracting lifeline for fall arrest.
• A standard shock-absorbing lanyard for fall arrest.
• A vertical lifeline assembly to work in fall restraint.
• Other options are available based on your application. For example, a four-person temporary horizontal lifeline kit can be used that spans between two anchor points.
On low-slope roofs you can also use fall restraint with a guardrail system. A guardrail system means your workers are not required to wear fall protection as long as they remain inside the guardrails.
On some new construction projects, the owners choose to install a permanent fall arrest system consisting of anchor points connected to a cable horizontal lifeline system permanently installed on the roof. This allows workers to remain connected to one system the whole time — a nice solution for newer commercial buildings.
Fall Restraint or Fall Arrest — Which Should You Choose?
Ultimately, whether you opt for fall restraint measures or fall arrest systems depends on a few key factors:
• Free fall distance. OSHA standards require a 6-foot free fall distance for fall protection systems. If your jobsite doesn’t afford a 6-foot fall before a fall arrest system can engage, you should opt for fall restraint.
• Overhead anchor points. If no overhead anchor points are available, fall restraint may be your best choice. You may, however, opt for a portable overhead anchor solution that allows you to position temporary overhead anchor points courtesy of a road-towable mobile unit with an extended arm designed for fall arrest.
• Permanent fall arrest systems. If the jobsite includes permanent fall arrest systems such as built-in anchor points or a cable horizontal lifeline system, many workers prefer these solutions. They are often built into new construction but may be absent from older jobsites.
Most commonly, residential roofing tends to require fall restraint whereas commercial roofing is usually more accommodating to fall arrest systems. Newer builds — especially commercial buildings — may offer workers more choices for built-in fall protection systems, which are a great option if they’re available.
Clearly you have many choices when it comes to working in fall restraint or with fall arrest systems. Knowing in advance the type of jobsite you have and the condition of the roof, including any built-in fall protection systems, will help you arrive prepared. A little planning and the proper equipment are key to maintaining safe working conditions and making sure every worker comes home safely at the end of the day.
About the Author: David Ivey oversees the product development of fall protection and safety equipment at Malta Dynamics. He also sits on the ANSI Z359 board and participates in many subcommittee meetings for safety products. For more information or with questions about fall protection and safety, contact email@example.com.