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There are more than a dozen trades in which workers are permitted regular access to flat or low-sloped roofs, including but not limited to roofing, building maintenance, HVAC, electrical, plumbing and telecommunications personnel.

According to the FGIA (previously known as AAMA) 2015/2016 U.S. Industry Market Study, there are nearly 275,000 commercial unit skylights sold annually. Nearly all commercial unit skylights installed on roofs accessed regularly by workers are aluminum framed and most use some form of plastic glazing (acrylic is most common).

It is difficult to determine how many workers are exposed to the fall hazards on a roof every day. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are more than 120,000 roofers alone who are obviously at risk. Add in the other trades that frequently access flat or low-sloped roofs and MILLIONS of existing unit skylights on the roofs...the risk exposure is significant.

Periodically, fatalities attributed to skylights (which may include uncovered roof openings) are highlighted in industry publications and outside media. As illustrated in the graphics below, the actual number of fatalities associated with skylights and skylight openings is very small when compared to other workplace injuries and fatalities. It is important for all workers that access the roof to be aware of all the hazards, including the potential to fall into a skylight, and how to prevent such incidents.

NOTE: A child should never have access to a roof where they could fall.

Click to view a PDF of infographic
Click to view a PDF of infographic

The risk exposure of falling through a skylight opening is SIGNIFICANT.
The actual number of fatalities attributed to skylights is comparatively MINIMAL.
BUT...every fall fatality is AVOIDABLE.

Currently, there is not a standardized method for testing a skylight for its ability to withstand an impact from a falling human. OSHA, and similar authorities, has established regulations – but the skylight industry generally agrees that these regulations are vague and open to different interpretations. ASTM has drafted a standard and test method to validate a skylight’s (or related product's) ability to support the effect of the impact from a large male, and the extensive review process is underway.

Fall protection must be shared amongst the many parties involved with the design, construction and maintenance of roofs. The following established safety procedures for minimizing risk should be implemented and followed first as a strong foundation for mitigating the occurrence of all falls from roofs and roof openings. When the glazing is not proven to be sufficiently resistant to falls, the use of railings, security grids or safety screens (not to be confused with insect or glass retention screens) are recommended.

Courtesy of Wasco
Courtesy of Wasco

  1. Only construction and building maintenance professionals should ever be on a roof, as there are a number of potential fall hazards present, including skylights. Access to a roof is the responsibility of the building owner and should be limited to such personnel by whatever reasonable means necessary.
  2. Applicable OSHA safety regulations should be complied with at all times when it is necessary for individuals to be on a roof. This may include, but is not limited to, the use of guards, PFAS (personal fall arrest systems) and warning signs.
  3. All individuals allowed to be on a roof as described above must be fully trained on roof safety by their employer and should have the competence and sense of personal responsibility and personal safety to follow all roof safety practices. The employer should have qualified personnel identify all potential roof hazards and ensure that all precautionary measures and practices are implemented. This may include, but is not limited to, the use of temporary barriers, PFAS (personal fall arrest systems) and warning signs. The potential hazards and safety measures implemented specific to the site must be communicated to and understood by all personnel working on the roof.
  4. Signage should be posted by the building owners and managers at each access point on to the roof communicating roof safety and inherent dangers.
  5. Skylights, and the roofs they are mounted in, are designed to resist the applicable environmental load requirements such as snow loads, wind loads, dead loads and, in some cases, hurricane-induced wind-borne debris impact loads. Standard design practices do not dictate that they are to be manufactured for human impact or point loads. Warning labels on skylights indicate this, as required by some evaluation entities (such as International Code Council-Evaluation Service) since 1986. In some cases, signage properly placed at roof access points has been employed to communicate this as well.

More information regarding the bullet points above can be referenced from the National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The FGIA Skylight/Sloped Glazing Council has worked diligently for over 30 years to establish technically solid performance standards and design guidelines in which safety has always been an important consideration. The issue of fall protection is not a new one. Manufacturer members of the FGIA Skylight/Sloped Glazing Council have been proactive in improving the safety performance of their products; as manufacturers of a product that is installed on a roof by customers, roof safety issues have been a consideration for some time.

As such, the Council’s mission is to look objectively at this issue and all its elements from which the data is derived. The FGIA Skylight/Sloped Glazing Council will continue its commitment to roof safety as presented here and will endeavor to pursue reasonable approaches in the future through the FGIA Fall Protection Task Group, along with continued participation in ASTM’s E06.51 .25 Sub-committee developing Work Item WK17797. This group’s draft document is entitled Standard Specification for Human Impact and Fall-through Resistance of Unit Skylights and Related Products Used on Skylight Openings on Non-Residential Buildings.