Did you know that in 2016 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics documented an average of 12 fatal injuries each day on the job in the U.S. — a total of 4,685 deaths? Of these, 937 fatalities were workers in construction…that’s one in five deaths. Of those 937 deaths, 350 (or 37%) were due to falls. Falls have been and continue to be the leading cause of deaths in construction.
All 350 deaths were preventable!
As stated by former Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, “Making a living shouldn’t have to cost you your life. Workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses are preventable. Safe jobs happen because employers make the choice to fulfill their responsibilities and protect the worker.”
To that end, OSHA has a General Duty Clause that mandates, “Each employer must furnish to each of his employees, employment and a place of employment, which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees.” Compliance with this legal obligation requires (at a minimum) training and proper protective equipment.
There are several types of fall protection used by commercial roofing contractors that all work together:
- Personal protective equipment
- Fall protection equipment
- Fall arrest equipment
- Fall restraint (prevention) equipment
Here’s an overview of the importance of each:
PPE: Personal Protective Equipment
A mandatory starting point for all contractors and job sites is PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment, which is equipment worn to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards. PPE includes protecting the head, eyes, ears, hands and feet. So hard hats, safety glasses, ear plugs, ear muffs, respirators, gloves, steel toed boots, long sleeves, long pants, and safety vests are everyday PPE; and they are the everyday basic safety equipment/protection used by commercial roofers.
Fall protection and fall arrest equipment
Workers who are working six feet or more above lower levels are at risk for serious injury or death if they should fall — so they need special protection. To protect these workers, employers must provide fall protection and the right equipment for the job, including the right kinds of fall protection.
Fall protection can be categorized as “personal fall protection”, or Personal Fall Arrest System known as PFAS, and fall protection equipment, like carts and rails.
PFAS equipment consists of 1) an anchorage, 2) a body harness with a D-ring, and 3) a connecting device that links the body harness to the anchor point (a shock-absorbing lanyard or self-retracting lifeline).
Permanent or temporary anchor points can be used. A permanent anchor point is a large metal ring that’s permanently attached to the roof. A temporary anchor point, also called a butterfly, is two metal plates with a hinge that’s fastened to the roof deck.
A third way to complying with an anchorage point is to use a piece of fall protection equipment called a “mobile fall protection system anchorage unit”, also called a mobile fall cart, is often used. A mobile fall cart weighs about 1,200 pounds and is lifted onto the roof by a piece of hoisting equipment like a crane, winch hoist or high-reach lift.
In general, the benefit of a mobile anchorage unit is that up to five workers can be connected to the cart at any time — three for fall arrest and two for fall restraint.
For fall restraint, the length of the lanyard is less than the distance to the edge of the roof. For fall arrest,
the length of the lanyard is greater than the distance to the edge of the roof but it allows for more mobility to do edge details. If a worker accidentally slips over the edge, the fall should be arrested between four and 12 feet, depending on the specific equipment.
Fall restraint (prevention) equipment
Fall restraint equipment keeps workers from falling over the edge in the first place, like the shorter lanyard connections mentioned above. Another important piece of safety equipment for both steep and low slope roofs used regularly by commercial roofers is a “temporary guard rail fall protection system”. Rail systems have engineered base plates that keep the railings secure. When workers stay on the correct side of the rail they are restrained from falling.
OSHA issued a new residential fall protection directive that must be also be followed by commercial roofing contractors effective as of March 15, 2013. It requires that the scope, application, and definitions applicable to “Subpart M – Fall Protection” must be followed whether a contractor is on a low slope roof (<4 in 12) or a steep slope roof (>4 in 12). The same fall protections requirements apply.
Therefore, safety equipment and protection doesn’t vary in essence based on the slope of the roof.
Protecting roofers goes beyond providing the right personal protection equipment, fall protection equipment and fall restraint equipment — contractors also need to protect workers against airborne risks.
For example, silicosis is a disease of the lungs due to the breathing of dust containing crystalline silica particles. As of September 23, 2017, OSHA will begin enforcement of the respirable crystalline silica standard for construction. The new rule requires engineering controls that keep workers from breathing silica dust. Two million construction workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica every year and 900 new cases of silicosis are diagnosed every year. There is NO cure for silicosis so worker protection is a must.
For silica respiratory protection, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends the use of half facepiece particulate respirators with N95 or better filters for airborne exposures to crystalline silica at concentrations less than or equal to 0.5 mg/m3. OSHA also specifies the use of at least a 95-rated filter efficiency [29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.134]. Said another way, as of next month on 9/23/2017, all workers who are exposed to respirable crystalline silica must be trained on silica risks and provided a NIOSH approved N95 respirator.
The most important part of a roofing contractor business
Protecting workers from hazards they might encounter on the job is the responsibility of the employer. If employers put workers in harm’s way, then they have the moral obligation to train their workers how to avoid it and to provide them with the right kind of protective equipment for their health and safety. This is especially true in the construction industry where 20% of all work-related deaths — many of them preventable — occur.
For a reputable roofing contractor, keeping its crews as safe as possible is the most important part of the business.
At Sentry Roof, we have an in-house safety and training department and go beyond the required standards. Each member of our field crew is OSHA 10 or OSHA 30 certified and all Sentry personnel are Red Cross certified in First Aid/CPR/AED. And frequent training updates and surprise inspections keep everyone up to speed. If you have any questions about the kinds of safety training, equipment, or protection protocols your roofing contractor should be using for your particular job and job site, feel free to contact me. I’ll be glad to discuss it with you.
Rick Langheim is Vice President of Sentry Roof Services. He directs the safety, financial and control objectives of all large projects and is also responsible for Sentry’s safety and training program. Rick has over 35 years experience in the commercial roofing industry.