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Most Skylights are Fall Hazards

In a recent discussion with a state OSHA official, I asked what some of the trends have been during the last couple of years and if there was anything we should be focusing on besides the things we see in their published Emphasis Programs. His biggest item was #fallprotection at skylights; both during construction and later during maintenance operations.

During construction, we have an obvious fall hazard that exists before the skylight is covered (because at that point it's just an opening in the floor), but in most cases that hazard remains even after the cover is installed because the majority of the installed skylights are not designed to withstand the force of a person who falls onto it...they end up going right through. The hazard continues during the life of the building as maintenance crews perform work on the roof near the skylights.

One solution is to install impact resistant skylight covers, which may be classified as hurricane resistant skylights. In this case it would be important to ensure that the skylight is rated to withstand at least twice the weight of a person and all of the tools they are carrying. While this is one solution, it only mitigates the hazard after the actual skylight is installed, which means that during construction there is still a fall hazard, and depending on the design and sequence of construction, there may also be a hazard of things being kicked through the opening onto workers below.

One solution I have used instead is to incorporate burglar bars into the finished design of the structure and utilize curb-mounted skylights. This worked great on a large warehouse with dozens of skylights that were going to otherwise be a hazard to people working on the roof and people working below them. During the design phase we proposed these features to the owner, who immediately saw the value in protecting the building from break-ins. Once these features were included in the design documents, we worked with the trade contractor to have them installed in the roofing panels on the ground. Once they were put in place during the roof construction, we ended up with built-in fall protection, and the curbs acted as toe boards to prevent materials and debris from being kicked onto people below.

These were fairly large openings, so the alternative would have been to install large hole covers, or guard rails with toe boards. Both of these would have had to be removed later for skylight installation, meaning an alternative means of fall protection would have to be utilized during this phase of construction. Our solution avoided all of the additional work, the owner essentially paid for the fall protection as an element of the structure, and the fall protection remained in place for future maintenance crews, all while enhancing the facility and protecting it from future break-ins.

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