When working on a rooftop, an uncovered hole would immediately be recognized as a hazard.
Skylights can seem to pose less of a fall risk, as the opening is covered with glass or plastic. However, most skylights are not designed to bear the weight of an individual leaning or falling. Both glass and plastic are breakable and are not appropriate safety measures for working around a skylight. To ensure rooftop safety when working around skylights, as well as adherence to OSHA skylight requirements, further precautions must be taken.
Falls from heights continue to be a leading cause of injury and death in many workplaces, despite increased safety measures and changes to regulations. It is important to take extra precautions and ensure fall protection around a skylight so that the working environment remains safe for everyone.
To help ensure that workers do not fall through a skylight, OSHA has clear requirements regarding the rooftop safety measures that are necessary, defining a skylight as a “hole” or “opening” regardless of whether or not it is covered with plastic or glass. While some have argued that a covering disqualifies a skylight from being classified as a “hole”, the regulations are very clear and should be complied with.
OSHA Skylight Requirements
How do you choose the best way to cover a skylight? The answer from OSHA is that:
“Each employee on walking/working surfaces shall be protected from falling through holes (including skylights) more than 6 feet (1.8 m) above lower levels, by personal fall arrest systems, covers, or guardrail systems erected around such holes.”
The general industry skylight requirements from OSHA involve implementing one of four types of skylight fall protection measures.
- Skylight safety screens
- Skylight railings
- Personal fall arrest systems
- Travel restraint systems
Skylight Safety Screens
Mesh skylight screens are designed for fall protection and come in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials. The more durable and weather-resistant screens are made of stainless steel, galvanized steel, or aluminum. Skylight safety screens can be attached to a building without compromising the integrity or aesthetics of the opening itself. Some designs allow for a non-penetrating clamp-on securing system.
Permanent or temporary skylight railings can be easily erected and dismantled when necessary. OSHA requires a minimum height of 42 inches for all rooftop guardrails. There are a variety of skylight protection systems available. Some skylight railings systems utilize rails that fasten into counterweight bases with a pin, while others are collapsible and don’t need to be fastened into substrates.
Personal Fall Arrest Systems
According to OSHA, a personal fall arrest system “means a system used to arrest an employee in a fall from a walking-working surface. It consists of a body harness, anchorage, and connector. The means of connection may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or a suitable combination of these” (1910.140). Especially in the absence of skylight screens, a personal fall arrest system is a critical means of fall protection.
Travel Restraint Systems
A travel restraint system consists of:
- A full body class “A” harness
- A fixed-length or adjustable lanyard
- A lifeline
- A rope grab that secures the lanyard to the lifeline
- An anchor point that can adequately support the load (what is considered appropriate will depend on the weight involved)
This system allows workers to reach the edge of a working area without the risk of falling over. It is often used for tasks on leading edges on working surfaces without protected ends. In the absence of a skylight barrier like a screen or railing, a travel restraint system protects workers around uncovered openings in a roof.
Skylight Safety Measures
Skylights come in a variety of materials including glass, plastic, polycarbonates or a combination of these materials. They are designed to withstand the forces of nature like heavy rain, hail or snow. However many are not designed to withstand a worker’s body weight, making it necessary to employ other skylight safety measures such as skylight covers or railings.
Furthermore, plastic skylights can deteriorate with time and exposure to sunlight and various environmental contaminants. This is why under law, unprotected skylights are treated as a fall hazard. Harrowing stories of workers tripping or leaning and falling through skylights to their deaths are a sadly avoidable reality. OSHA has created skylight requirements to mitigate these risks by creating consequences for those who do not comply.
A thorough risk assessment and analysis of potential hazards should be carried out before work commences. The condition of any skylights, whether or not they are appropriately shielded to prevent falls, and the possibility of installing a skylight railing or skylight covers should all be noted.
Implementing skylight safety measures can save lives. Employers should establish a fall protection program to ensure that all workers are trained appropriately in the use of all equipment and can recognize and control all hazards. Workers must also be supervised appropriately and trained in the procedures for installing, maintaining, inspecting, and taking apart all fall protection equipment and systems.
Working around skylights requires the same degree of precaution as any other potential fall hazard. Sadly it is often overlooked, and many tragic accidents have taken place that could have been avoided with the implementation of appropriate skylight safety measures like a skylight railing or cover.
Skylights are a common feature in both industrial or commercial buildings and homes that can help illuminate darker areas and add architectural flair and style. However, it is possible to install the right safety measures for skylights that will not compromise the style or aesthetics of a space. A simple measure such as a skylight safety screen is an easy way to create a significant layer of protection. The lack of proper skylight barriers poses a serious risk for construction or maintenance workers and can result in permanent and impairing injuries or death.
OSHA does not distinguish between an open hole and a skylight that remains unguarded. Requirements should be followed carefully to avoid expensive legal consequences and the tragedy of highly avoidable fatalities.