FallGuards for Skylights

Fallguards are proactive solutions that guard skylights and roof openings to prevent falls. 

Description:

Fallguard, a skylight safety screen, is a prevention-through-design (PtD) process that addresses the risk of potential falls through skylights during the construction or maintenance of buildings. Due to the large number of fatalities each year from falls through skylights, as reported by U.S. Department of Labor statistics, it is mandatory that every skylight be guarded by a standard skylight screen. 

Most of these accidents occur because skylights, specifically fiberglass panel skylights, are difficult to see when they are covered by debris or snow. The corrugated fiberglass skylights are at the same level and have the same metal profile as the roof panel, making these potential hazards difficult to recognize (Figure 1). Even dome skylights, which are easier to recognize, account for many of these accidents because workers still lean on, step on, and consequently fall through them (Figure 2).  Fallguards for skylights are designed as a fall protection system in response to OSHA regulations (29 CFR 1910.23 and 1926.501) to prevent injuries and fatalities resulting from falls through skylights. OSHA requires that employers provide fall protection as stated in the following regulations:

OSHA Regulation 29 CFR 1910.23 Guarding Floor and Wall Openings and Holes:

“(a) (4) Every skylight, floor opening, and hole shall be guarded by a standard skylight screen or fixed standard railing on all exposed sides.”

 

OSHA Regulation 29 CFR 1926.501 Duty to Have Fall Protection:

“(a) (2) The employer shall determine if the walking/working surfaces on which the employees are to work have the strength and structural integrity to support employees safely. Employees shall be allowed to work on those surfaces only when the surfaces have the requisite strength and structural integrity.”

“(b) (4) Holes (i) Each employee on walking/working surface shall be protected from falling through holes (including skylights) more than 6 feet above lower levels by personal fall arrest systems, covers, or guardrail systems erected around such holes. (ii) Each employee on walking/working surface shall be protected from tripping or stepping in the holes (including skylights) by covers.”

Figure 1. Example of skylight with safety screen for corrugated fiberglass skylights. Image source: desertvalleyroofingvegas.com; plasteco.com

 

This passive protection solution is an emerging method to save lives, time, money, and workers’ health during the design phase, with no further action required after installation. This passive solution does not require workers to identify hazards or take any action to prevent falling. This solution eliminates the potential risk of fatality by protecting workers from dangerous practices such as sitting or leaning on skylights.

These fallguards offer advantages such as improved cost-effectiveness, ease of installation requiring no special tools, and low maintenance, especially when installation is planned during the design phase of a project.

Figure 2. Examples of dome skylight with the safety screen. Image source: skylightscreens.com

 

To install these guards, the fallguard rail must be centered on the long side of the skylight frame or the highest corrugation nearest to the center of the skylight and secured through pre-punched holes. Then, the screen must be installed over the skylight and secured with stainless steel clips (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Fallguard installation. Image source: skylightscreens.com; fall-arrest.com


Risks Addressed:

NIOSH has considered preventing falls through skylights or uncovered roof and floor openings a NIOSH priority for 30 years, given the fatality rate has remained a serious health concern in the U.S. Fatal falls result from inadequate fall protection for those working around skylights and roof and floor openings. In accordance with OSHA standards, a fall protection system must be implemented on all job sites.

Although skylights are aesthetically desirable features in buildings, falls through fragile roofing materials and skylights are statistically high and may lead to injuries and fatalities. Uncovered or unguarded skylights expose workers to danger if they do not have appropriate fall protection systems.


How Risks are Reduced:

ASTM WK17797 testing guidelines must be used to determine the strength of skylight materials to withstand a worker’s weight while also considering the impact of sun exposure on degradation of materials after several years. Although these guidelines and tests exist, employers should not rely on manufacturer testing alone; instead they must ensure that an appropriate fall protection system is prepared to prevent falls through skylights. The fall protection can consist of fallguards for skylights, which can support more than 400 pounds (twice the weight of the two workers plus their equipment) (Figure 1 and 2), or guardrails at least 45 inches in height with a top rail and mid rail that can withstand a live load of 20 pounds per square foot (Figure 4). In this solution, the fallguard skylight screen is offered to eliminate the risk of falling through skylights and the consequential injuries and deaths.

Figure 4. Examples of guardrail Skylight Protection. Image source: fall-arrest.com 


Effects on Productivity:

Fallguards will prove to be more than cost-effective, especially as an alternative to a fall through a skylight.


Additional Considerations:

  • Employers should ensure that all workers who are required to work near skylights are properly trained to identify potential fall hazards in advance and do not expose themselves to danger by sitting or stepping on the skylights.
  • Employers also must affix decals and signs near skylights to warn workers about potential fall hazards.
  • Employers must check and strengthen the skylight fallguards to withstand the weight of workers if they step on one by mistake.

Contributors:

Sogand Hasanzadeh - SARMAD Research Group, University of Nebraska- Lincoln

Behzad Esmaeili, Ph.D. - SARMAD Research Group, University of Nebraska- Lincoln

Pouya Gholizadeh - SARMAD Research Group, University of Nebraska- Lincoln


Hazards Addressed:

Availability

PLASTECO
To obtain information, visit http://www.plasteco.com or contact +1-713-673-7710

Peak Supply Company
To obtain information, visit http://www.peaksupplycompany.com/ or contact +1-614-876-8698

Flexible Lifeline Systems, Inc.
To obtain information, visit https://fall-arrest.com or contact +1-832-448-9225

Garlock Safety Systems
To obtain information, visit http://www.garlocksafety.com or contact +1-763-694-2624

Return on Investment

To calculate the return on investment (ROI) for your specific application, please visit our Return on Investment Calculator. While a specific ROI example has not been developed for this particular solution, the ROI Calculator provides a useful tool and guidance on how to generate your own on investment analysis.