Unless the parapet wall is over 3 feet tall, guard rails have
to be added and should support 200 pounds of force in case
of a slip. You can opt for temporary versions that require no
penetrations for the duration of a specific job or ones that
are affixed permanently to your exterior.
In addition to rails, consider rooftop anchors, says
Richardson. Employees can attach their harnesses to these
fall arrest devices. This ensures that in an emergency, a
self-retracting lifeline, shock-absorbing lanyard, or rope
grab system is secured to the building and can suspend the
weight for a worker.
Another good rule of thumb is that portable ladders
should extend three feet above the roof line, Impellizeri
notes. They should also maintain the simple 4-to-1 rule –
for every 4 feet the ladder rises vertically, the footing
should be an additional 1 foot away from the facade.
Fixed ladders can be reinforced with safety cages, Richardson suggests. With the right lifeline and anchors, workers can also secure their harnesses to the framework in case
they lose their grip on a rung.
Despite these precautions, there’s still a chance someone
could get hurt. If so, where is the nearest emergency kit?
How easily can workers call for help? Is there a safe way
to exit the roof if an injured person has limited mobility?
Make sure you have the right equipment and a contingency
plan in place should the unfortunate occur.
Get Policies and Procedures on the Books
Beyond physical protection measures, it’s necessary to
have robust policies in place for roof safety. Make it clear
in writing who is allowed on the roof and under what
A good place to start is your company leadership. You
need support from management to create a safety culture
and have the backing to enforce it.
“Protecting employees is multifaceted, so your company
should commit to the safety and health of their employees.
If you have this assurance, everything else falls in line,”
Create a check in/out system so there’s a record of roof
traffic. There should also be an assigned staff member
who oversees the log and has the authority to issue keys or
provide access. For outside contractors, provide an internal
escort who can help guide those who have never been on
your roof before, Impellizeri advises.
For repairs and maintenance, conduct a job hazards
analysis, recommends Richardson. This simple form uses
a survey to help you anticipate the scope of work, identify
associated hazards, and provide countermeasures for any
You also need a process in place to verify safety performance during roof activity. Moreover, there should be
follow through if the rules become lax.
“Pair your safety procedures with a disciplinary plan –
you can’t turn a blind eye to violations,” stresses Richard-
son. “D.C. Taylor, for example, has a zero tolerance policy
that cover six safety factors.”
Training should be a fundamental part of your safety
program no matter how frequently your staff goes on the
underfoot and cut corners on a job in ways that are less
than gentle to roofs.
“Particularly on roofs with multiple decks, workers may
Improve Safety with Protection Devices
be tempted to jump from small heights,” Impellizeri says. “If
there aren’t enough ladders for the whole crew or one is in
use, 5 feet or less may seem like a safe distance to leap from.
Not only is this dangerous for workers, but the force of them
landing can crush the insulation and damage the boards.”
Even if there are enough ladders, improper use can also
create damage, cautions Richardson. Friction may harm
siding and gutters, or worse, workers could add unneces-
sary penetrations to the exterior to secure the ladder.
There is a host of retrofit options that will make your
roof a safer working environment. Many are modestly
priced, will last for years on end, and can be added without
A simple first step is to ensure all workers have personal
protection equipment, Impellizeri states. This includes
harnesses as well as weather-appropriate clothing, sunglasses, headgear, and gloves.
“Next, add walkway paths,” Impellizeri recommends.
“These can be welded easily to an existing roof to provide
an additional layer of cushion.”
You can also put down safety tape to mark paths and
draw attention to potential obstacles and tripping hazards.
Consider that your staff may work on the roof infrequently
and an outside contractor could have no familiarity with
the layout – a little wayfinding is always helpful.
The next level of safety can be achieved with passive
forms of fall protection. These include netting or screens
over skylights, says Richardson. You can also add safety
posts, grab bars, or railing with self-closing gate to hatches.
From there, look at low parapet walls and unprotected
edges. Per OSHA 1926.502, “The top edge height of top
rails, or equivalent guardrail system members, shall be
42 inches plus or minus 3 inches above the walking or
ROOF EDGES SHOULD BE
PROTECTED BY A RAILING
THAT IS 42 INCHES HIGH AND
CAN SUPPORT 200 POUNDS