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When Skylights are Deadly: Why Fall Protection is Required

Floor holes can be found inside buildings, on rooftops, and outdoors. "Floor Holes" aren't always just holes in the floor that someone might accidentally step into. Floor Holes, like unguarded skylights, can be deadly and this is one area where many workers forget to take the necessary safety measure to protect themselves and their co-workers, or at minimum throw some caution tape up around the hole and think that is enough.

Not convinced? Here are two incidents that should give everyone a wake up call.

OSHA Standard 1926.500(b) defines a hole as a gap or a void 2 inches (5.1 cm) or more in its least dimension, in a floor, roof, or other walking/working surface.

Examples of floor holes, besides the obvious 'hole in the floor' are:

  • Roof drains
  • Concrete penetrations for piping and ducts
  • Unfinished stairways
  • Pier drilled holes
  • Excavations, and
  • Skylights

In the NIOSH report below, a laborer died after falling through an unguarded skylight. Emergency personnel responded within 5 minutes but the injuries were too severe and the young man did not survive the fall.

Article, Worker Dies When He Fell Through Skylight
To read the full investigation report, click the summary above.

NIOSH investigators concluded that, in order to help prevent similar occurrences, employers should:

  • Conduct a site inspection prior to beginning roofing work to identify all potential fall hazards present, and take appropriate steps to ensure that identified hazards are eliminated or controlled prior to the commencement of work activities.
  • Develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive written safety program for all workers which includes training in hazard recognition, including but not limited to fall hazards, and the avoidance of unsafe conditions.
  • Building owners should consider installing permanent railings around skylight perimeters or protective covers over individual skylights to guard against falls through skylights by maintenance or other personnel who must access the roof.
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. 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 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.

Properly protected skylight.
Properly protected skylight.
Temporary guardrail installation around this skylight.
Temporary guardrail installation around this skylight.

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