Preventing Falls From Roofs

By Jennifer Anderson
Last updated: November 9, 2018
Presented by Nektar Data Systems
Key Takeaways

More than half of all falls occur at heights of less than three meters, and most of these are from ladders and roofs.

Working at heights can be an incredibly risky endeavor. And while we have a number of laws and regulations in place to ensure that the risks are mitigated, year after year fall safety violations continue to top OSHA's list of most frequently cited standards.


This is a serious matter. While we have been making gains in various areas of workplace safety, fatalities from falls, slips, and trips actually saw an increase of 5.6% in 2021, resulting in 850 lives lost on the job. And this doesn't include the countless workers who have been injured or disabled as the result of a fall.

This is unacceptable.


It's also entirely preventable.

In this article, we'll go over the measures employers must put in place to prevent falls from height, as well as the steps workers have to take to ensure that they don't become part of those tragic statistics.

The Anatomy of a Fall

Not everyone who works at heights will reach the high altitudes experienced by workers high-rise window cleaners. In fact, more than half of falls on the the job are from less than 3 meters of elevation – mostly from ladders and roofs.

Residential building sites see more injuries from falls than any other sector of the construction industry, and more falls happen to roofers than any other type of construction worker.

The cause of falls range from a worker losing their balance at the edge of a roof, improper use of safety equipment, tripping due to poor housekeeping around the jobsite. But the one thing most falls have in common is that they could have been prevented by implementing and following a comprehensive fall protection plan.


(Learn about 3 Risks Your Fall Arrest Planning May Overlook)

Employer Responsibilities

Employers are responsible for:

  • Identifying and controlling all fall hazards on the jobsite
  • Instituting a housekeeping program to reduce the risk of slips and trips
  • Installing guardrails and other fall protection measures
  • Providing personal fall protection equipment to all employees who work at heights (at no cost to them)
  • Training workers in fall hazards and fall safety procedures

Employers must also take into account and eliminate any language barriers among the workforce. Safety signs, training sessions, and written fall protection plan must be provided to all workers in a language they can understand.

(For advice on this, see 5 Steps to Creating a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Workplace)

Identifying Fall Hazards

When planning a project that might involve work at heights, the employer must first do a formal assessment to identify all potential fall hazards the workers might face. This includes climbing on ladders, standing on scaffolds, and working on rooftops.

When dealing with rooftops, take into account any skylight or access hatch. These pose additional risks and will require their own safety measures. Uneven elevation and smaller platforms (like balconies) will also involve different types of protection and equipment.

Once all fall hazards have been identified, a risk assessment is needed to determine their severity. The findings of the risk assessment will then inform the details of the fall protection plan, which will cover:

  1. The control measures needed to prevent or arrest falls
  2. Where guardrails will be needed, and what type
  3. Where to post warning signs or set up boundary markers
  4. The type of personal fall protection equipment workers will require
  5. Safe working procedures in areas with fall hazards
  6. Rescue procedures for fallen workers

Include Safety in Your Bid and Time Estimates

Slim budgets and tight deadlines are no excuse to skimp on fall protection measures.

When bidding on a job, it is the employer's responsibility to take into account the time and cost required to set up a safe working environment and train the workers do their jobs safely.

Ensure Workers Have the Right Tools

Any work environment six feet off the ground or higher is deemed at risk for serious injury or death resulting from a fall. Workers at heights must be provided with fall protection equipment, including ladders and personal safety gear.

Since different ladders and scaffolds are needed based on the specifics of the job and the work environment, the employer must not simply supply this equipment but ensure that they provide the right type. Providing the wrong kind of ladder, failing to add a cage at the required height, or not installing toeboards on guardrails near the edge of a roof isn't a way to make do with the gear on hand – it's tantamount to leaving workers unprotected.

(Learn more about Fall Protection and Ladders)

Provide Personal Fall Arrest Systems

In most cases, those who are working at heights should be doing so with a personal fall arrest system (PFAS) that fits properly, is in good working order, and is able to arrest a fall before the user suffers an injury from it.

Workers should be trained in how to use their PFAS, including how to don it and adjust it for a proper fit.

A supervisor must check each employee's PFAS regularly to ensure that it is in good working order, free of damage, and does not show signs of wear.

Train All Employees

Falls can be prevented when every worker – not just those working at heights – know how to check, install, and troubleshoot personal fall arrest equipment and the misuse of it. Knowledge is power – employees can't help each other work safe unless they know what working safe looks like.

The fall protection training program should be reviewed regularly to ensure that it is up to date, reflects the type of hazards that workers are likely to face, and incorporates the actual fall protect equipment they will be using. Even if the equipment and the work environment remain the same, holding regular refresher training sessions will help workers prioritize safety and remember every step they need to follow when they are working on roofs.

Free Download: Construction Fall Safety Checklist

Workers' Responsibilities to Avoid Falls

While the bulk of the responsibility for workplace safety falls on the employer, a jobsite isn't truly safe unless everyone works to make it that way.

It's also important to recognize that many of the workers who need access to rooftops are not experienced roofers. They may be:

  • Carpenters
  • Plumbers
  • Heating and ventilation installers
  • Painters
  • Telecommunications equipment service technicians
  • Demolition contractors
  • Safety and building inspectors

All too often, they don't have the right safety equipment or the training on how to use it properly. They may also work alone, with no one around to troubleshoot their equipment or keep an eye on them when they're near leading edges or other hazards.

Every worker must take the time to learn the procedures for working safely on roofs, even if they only need to access it briefly to repair an HVAC unit. If they do not have the equipment needed to work safely, they must request it from their employer and delay going on the rooftop until it has been supplied to them.

If they do have personal fall arrest equipment, they must ensure that it is the right type and inspect it before use.

It may not be the worker's responsibility to install buy and install guardrails or set up barrier tape near the edges of the roof. But for their own sake, it is essential that they speak with the relevant employer, supervisor, or building owner about their fall protection plan before commencing their work.

(Learn more about Fall Protection and Leading Edges)


Workers and employees alike have a responsibility to ensure that they are working with the correct equipment for the job and using it properly. The employer must provide the equipment and training, and if the worker notices that either is lacking, it is their responsibility to bring it up with the employer.

There is a lot involved in working on a rooftop. Even a quick one-off job involves planning, training, and safety equipment. It may seem demanding but as with everything else, if you can't do the job safely, you shouldn't be doing it at all.

For all things Fall Protection, check out our Fall Protection Knowledge Center.

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