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Unguarded Skylight Results in Roofer's Tragic Death


Falls are a hazard found in many work settings. A fall can occur during walking or climbing a ladder to change a light fixture, or as a result of a complex series of events affecting an ironworker 80 feet above the ground. Deadly falls can also happen when working around unprotected skylights (see the story below).

According to recent fatal injury statistics (BLS.gov), there are more than 600 fatal falls annually. Many workers may be surprised to hear that about 2 out of every 3 falls are from less than 20 feet high. Workers should be very aware of their work at any height.

Particularly at risk of fall injuries are those working in:

  • Healthcare support
  • Building cleaning and maintenance
  • Transportation and material moving
  • Construction and extraction occupations
OSHA Standard 1926.501(b)(1) Unprotected sides and edges. Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling...

OSHA Standard 1926.501(b)(4) states that Each employee on walking/working surfaces shall be protected from falling through holes...and from tripping in or stepping into or through holes (including skylights)...

Never assume everyone will see the hole and step around it, or think that caution tape is enough. A slip or trip near the hole can result in a serious injury or worse. Proper covers, guardrails and signage must be utilized on and near floor hole hazards.

CAPublicHealth has put together a sobering video that explains events that led to a roofing supervisor's death after he fell 30 feet through a warehouse roof skylight. The victim was supervising the vacuuming of roof rock off a flat roof when he picked up the hose to move it out of the way of the vacuum operator. As the victim was moving the house, he fell through the skylight. Photographs from the fatality investigation are supplemented with scenes recreated by co-workers that were there that day. This is a true story, told by the workers who were there the day Joe fell to his death. Joe has worked for the same roofing company for 25 years.

The key factor that contributed to the victim's death was working in close proximity to an unguarded skylight.

The video is less than 6 minutes long. Roofing and construction companies are encouraged to include this video as part of their comprehensive safety training program, or at least show this video during a short toolbox talk if possible. Even veteran employees need to participate in weekly safety meetings.

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