Fall Protection Options Explained

August 11, 2020

If you have people on your roof, you need fall protection. Start exploring your options by contacting a professional roofing contractor. They can perform a fall hazard survey to identify the activities that are taking place on the roof and the hazards they present. Most roofing contractors can work in partnership with a fall protection equipment manufacturer to provide you recommendations for fall protection that will minimize the risk of falls and/or injuries by rooftop workers. Their proposal will likely include some of the following solutions.

Guard Rail

Sections of bright yellow guard rail fencing serve as a barrier to prohibit workers from getting too close and falling through roof hatches and skylights or from a roof edge or parapet wall. This type of passive fall protection requires little training and can either be fixed to the roof permanently or installed with a weighted base (i.e. non-penetrating). Guard rails are the easiest way to enforce safety for workers, who can climb a ladder, open a swing gate, and step onto the roof inside the guard rail.

In the past, OSHA’s general industry standard provided fixed guard rail as the only solution to protect workers on the roof. The January 2017 update synced the general industry standard with the construction industry rule to provide business/building owners with more options.

Warning Lines

Similar to guard rail, warning lines (pictured above) serve as a visual barrier to indicate danger. This flagging alerts employees that they are approaching an unprotected roof side or edge. Warning lines should be used on elevations greater than 6 feet and placed 15 feet or more from the edge for non-roofing work.

It is much easier to breach a warning line (lifting and stepping under, as shown in the graphic below) than a metal guard rail; for this reason, a designated safety monitor must be present to prevent individuals from stepping between the line and roof edge. Always define, communicate, and enforce a designated work area policy. It’s best to only use warning lines with users who are educated about the requirement and understand the dangers.

Skylight Screens/Nets

When identifying hazards, skylights always make the list. Most are not designed to endure the weight of a person, making it necessary to protect workers who could fall through. While guard rail is an option, for aesthetic reasons, many facility managers opt for another permanent solution: skylight screens. Installed over the skylight, they withstand up to 400 pounds of force. If infrequent maintenance on equipment near one skylight takes place, consider skylight nets, a temporary solution. A frame unfolds over top of the skylight to catch an individual if they stumble into the skylight.

Single-Point Anchors

Whereas the previous solutions are all passive, roof anchors are an active fall protection strategy that requires personal protective equipment (PPE) and engagement from the user. Single-point anchors are secured to a roof’s substructure and/or roof deck or counterweighted. Eyelets on top serve as easily accessible personal fall arrest tie-off points. Workers wearing a body harness and fall restraint lanyard connect to the anchors, which can support 5,000 pounds. They can then work within a 6- to 10-foot radius of the anchor.

Horizontal Lifeline

Like a roof anchor, a horizontal lifeline requires PPE and training to use. A horizontal lifeline system is comprised of roof anchors and a cable lifeline to which individuals wearing body harnesses connect. Unlike a single point anchor, the horizontal lifeline gives workers more space to work safely. While this won’t always prevent a fall, it will reduce the likelihood of an injury or fatality.


Contact D. C. Taylor Co. today at 319.363.2073 for a fall hazard survey, permanent fall protection installation, or fall protection equipment inspection.

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