Falls are the leading cause of death in construction year after year according to OSHA, and account for one third of the total deaths that occur on-the-job in the industry. Each year over 200 workers are killed and 10, 000 injured as a result of falls. In 2013, almost three hundred American construction workers fell to their deaths. Deaths related to the construction industry for any reason were just over eight hundred.

Preventing falls from roofs is major initiative of safety groups like OSHA, NORA, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Investigations by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

More than half the falls occur at heights of less than three meters, and most of these are from ladders and roofs. Falls cost over $24 million a year in healthcare and insurance. More injuries occur on residential building sites than anywhere else in the construction industry, and more falls happen to roofers than any other construction worker. Most of these fatal falls are preventable.

In order to raise awareness in the construction and other industries about preventing falls from ladders, scaffolds and roofs, OSHA has launched an education campaign. The awareness initiative includes a resources page, training tools for employers, and posters to display at worksites, which is available on their website.

Employer Responsibilities

Employers are responsible for providing safety gear, so work on roofs can be done safely. In addition, any employers who expect their workers to be on roofs are expected to provide education and training about workplace safety before workers are sent to work. Limited English proficiency is an issue in the construction industry, so resources, training, and safety rules must be communicated to workers in a language and diction that they understand. Many of the new resources OSHA is introducing in partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) - Construction Sector are specifically prepared for a target audience of workers whose first language is not English, and those who have limited English proficiency.

Identify Hazards

When employers expect their workers to be working from heights, on ladders, scaffolds, and roofs they must plan projects to ensure on-the-job safely. This includes identifying potential hazards, assessing these hazards and developing a plan for working safely within the confines of these hazards, or eliminating them if feasible. Their plan requires steps to address:

  1. How the job will be done
  2. What specific tasks are involved
  3. Safety equipment required

Estimate Accordingly

When bidding on a job, the employer needs to take into account time required to set up a safe working environment and train workers to do their jobs safely. The employer also needs to factor in the cost of materials/equipment needed to complete the job safely.

Ensure Workers have Right Tools

Any work environment six feet off the ground or over is deemed at risk for serious injury or death resulting from a fall. Workers at heights must be provided with fall protection equipment including proper ladders, scaffolds, as well as personal safety gear. Since different ladders and scaffolds are required for different jobs, the employer must be sure that the equipment is the best fit for the safe completion of each individual job.

Personal Fall Arrest Systems

Any employee working on a roof should have a personal fall arrest system (PFAS) that fits properly and is in working order. Workers should be taught how to use a PFAS and proper fitting procedures. Moreover, the employer or his supervisor must check regularly to ensure that the PFAS is in good working order and each employee working on the roof is wearing the required PFAS.

Avoid Falls with Employee Training

When every worker—not just the ones working on the roof—knows how to check, install, and trouble shoot for PFAS equipment and worker misuse of it, falls can be avoided. Knowledge is power. Employers must ensure every worker understands the proper set-up and safe use of all roofing equipment and has been trained on its use. Hazard recognition is the responsibility of every worker, and each should be thoroughly trained to spot problems and correct them. Moreover, training on equipment and PFAS should be reviewed like a fire drill. Equipment and staff change, so training should be reviewed and refreshed.

Build Worker Awareness

Through training sessions, posters, brochures, and safety workshops employers can build employee awareness of safe practices involving working on roofs. Training should be ongoing, so wearing PFAS and using the right equipment for the job in the correct way becomes second nature to all employees. Organizations like OSHA, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and NORA have resource materials available to build worker awareness and help in training employees.

Worker Responsibilities to Avoid Falls

Safety conscious groups like the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment expect that not only employers and contractors, but also their staff, independent contractors and DIY individuals will actively manage and work to prevent any potential for falls from rooftops.

Workers who need access to rooftops are not always experienced roofers. These may include: carpenters, plumbers, heating and ventilation installers, air conditioning installers, painters, telecommunications equipment service individuals, demolition contractors, home owners, construction, safety and building inspectors, and chimney sweeps. These individuals may not work on rooftops on a daily basis, and may not have experience with this workspace. Often they do not have the proper safety equipment, or even know how to use it. Frequently, they are also working alone, so there is no one to troubleshoot their equipment or technique.

DIY and Roofing Falls

Workers, employees and DIY homeowners have a responsibility to ensure that they are working with the correct equipment for the job, that they are using it correctly and that they are wearing and know how to use PFAS. Frequently DIY-ers rush and cut safety corners. This is because they lack the experience to realize when a workspace is unsafe, do not have the necessary equipment and/or are in a hurry to get things done in their limited free time and with inexperienced help. More roofing accidents per capita occur to DIYers than any other single group. The first step toward safety at home is awareness.