Stay Safe Up There: How to Identify and Address Common Rooftop Fall Hazards

Stay Safe Up There: How to Identify and Address Common Rooftop Fall Hazards


Rooftop worker attaching fall protection cable to rooftop anchor

Falls from heights are a leading cause of serious work-related injuries and deaths. They are also the number one cause in the construction industry [1]. According to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022 there were 1,092 total fatal injuries in the construction industry, of those, 397 were falls to a lower level [2]. Nearly 39% of these work-related deaths were due to falls, slips, or trips. Of that 39%, the construction industry accounted for nearly half, 47.4%, of all fatal falls, slips, and trips in 2022 [3].

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to provide fall protection for employees performing work at heights of four feet or more above a lower level (OSHA910(b)(1)(i). Non-compliance can result in workplace injuries, citations, fines, and lost productivity. This is why rooftop fall protection is critical and being aware of the types of hazards and how to remediate them is of the utmost importance. Quite simply, it could save a life.


Common Rooftop Fall Hazards

In addition to the general wear and tear that comes with the age of a roof and elements of nature that may present a hazard, there are typically five categories of rooftop fall hazards:


  1. Access Points & Openings — This includes roof hatches, skylights and access ladder openings as well as intentional and unintentional holes. OSHA considers a skylight to be a hole in your roof 28(b)(3) and 1910.28(b)(3)(i) and states that each employee should be protected from falling through any hole (including skylights) that is more than four feet above a lower level.
  2. Ladders — Ladders should be securely attached and no more than six inches from the wall. They should also begin and terminate in areas that are both safe and make sense.
  3. Perimeter Edge —Edge Awareness is the is the ability to track the edge of a roof. Workers can lose their bearings while performing rooftop work. Roof edges should be protected with toe boards and guardrails to prevent both people and tools or other items from falling over the edge.
  4. Rooftop Equipment — This includes HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) units, air handling systems and solar panels. All of these items can pose a trip hazard that a worker can fall into. OSHA requires rooftop equipment within 15’ of the edge to have a railing and anything taller than six feet needs additional protection.
  5. Navigation—Walking on a roof, even a flat one, is always dangerous. Parapet walls, pipe racks, rooftop equipment, pitched roofs, conduit and multi-level roof drops can all pose a life and safety issue. OSHA requires that changes in height greater than four feet need fall protection, such as guardrails, as do parapets shorter than 42 inches. Consider non-stick walkways and the installation of passive or active fall protection equipment where necessary.

Passive Fall Protection

Fall protection equipment (FPE) falls into one of two categories: passive or active. Passive FPE requires no action from the worker once the system is installed. These are items that are non-dynamic and stationary and create an unmoving barrier:


  • Safety railings
  • Guardrails
  • Handrails
  • Safety Gates
  • Safety Netting
  • Ladder Guards
  • Skylight Protectors
  • Crossover Platforms

Active Fall Protection

Whereas active FPE does require action on the part of the worker. Additionally, it also requires specialized training, regular inspections and routine maintenance on an on-going basis. With active FPE an organization should have an established training schedule as well as clearly communicated rules and procedures, perhaps in the form of a fall protection plan. Active FPE can create both fall restraint and fall arrest, but it should be noted it does not actually prevent falling (see passive FPE) and a worker who falls is still exposed to the forces of falling and could suffer injury and/or suspension trauma. Active fall protection systems can include:


  • Safety Harnesses
  • Lifeline Systems
  • Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS)
  • Ladder Cable Systems
  • Lanyards
  • Safety Lines
  • Self-Retracting Lanyards
  • Fixed Point Anchors

Rooftop Fall Protection Checklist

Worker safety should be the utmost priority for any organization. While we recommend a complete roof condition and fall protection hazard assessment, we also recommend knowing your rooftop and the dangers that it can present. Walk your roof and take notes:


  • The rooftop is clear of natural and other debris.
  • Roof anchors are properly installed and secure
  • Guardrails are properly installed and are not loose
  • Exterior and interior mounted ladders are secure and rust free
  • Crossover platforms are installed on split level roofs and parapet walls
  • Skylights have guardrails, screen covers or self-closing gates
  • If using active fall protection equipment: rules, policies and procedures are in place and clearly communicated, employees receive regular training on how to safely use the equipment, and routine maintenance is being performed on any ladder climbing safety systems, horizontal lifelines, safety harnesses, rooftop anchors, and/or personal fall arrest systems.

After completing your checklist, determine if a professional needs to be brought in and if additional passive or active fall protection equipment needs to be installed to ensure that you are in compliance with OSHA workplace standards. Knowledge is power and, in this case, it can also save a life.

Contact Us Today!

Technical Assurance can perform both a roof condition and fall protection hazard assessment to help your facilities remain OSHA compliant and maintain safe rooftop working environments. Contact us today for a consultation.