During rooftop safety assessments, we often ask our clients to point out known fall hazards. The most frequently mentioned rooftop fall hazard is the building’s leading edge. From here, some clients mention roof elevation changes or access hatches, but most struggle to identify additional fall hazards that may trigger OSHA violations. Sometimes the most innocuous feature—for example, a skylight—is the most troublesome omission because folks fail to see the potential dangers posed by areas that appear safe.
Skylights are often used to introduce additional, natural light in large cavernous commercial buildings that lack windows. Windowless offices and conference rooms are dark, dreary work spaces, and with the addition of a skylight come daily doses of sunshine. That said, the skylights that boost office morale also pose significant dangers to personnel working on your roof. A slip, trip, or miss-step can send a worker plunging through the skylight dome, causing catastrophic injury or death.
From a management perspective, skylights go unprotected for a number of reasons. In some cases, folks fail to guard skylights because dome screens can block sunlight from entering the building. Sometimes, management objects to skylight fall protection based on cost, and in still other situations, dome guarding is absent due to apathy or ignorance. There are many reasons skylights go unprotected, but make no mistake; skylight fall protection is an OSHA requirement.
There are several ways to protect contractors and maintenance personnel from the fall hazards associated with rooftop skylights. Skylight screens are an option, but the shielding properties that keep workers safe from falling to a lower level also block some of the sunlight. Another option is the use of non-penetrating or portable guardrail. If rooftop sightlines are visible from the ground level and aesthetics is important, portable safety railing is easily installed in minutes prior to the maintenance task and removed once the work is complete. You can also leave freestanding skylight guardrail permanently installed. We like this option because it does not block sunshine, and the skylight area remains protected at all times. Finally, portable skylight guardrails offer the strength and OSHA compliance found in permanent installations but because these units non-penetrating, they do not cause leaks.
Remember, the rooftop fall hazards that seem of little consequence are just that until someone gets hurt. Never assume that a skylight is sturdy enough to prevent a poke through or a fall to a lower level. Protecting your rooftop skylights with guardrail may seem like an unnecessary step, but doing so is important to maintain OSHA compliance and more importantly, a safe work environment.