Although ladder safety details can be easy to miss, contractors and technicians are equally responsible for observing and implementing safety rules to help prevent falls and other accidents.

There is more to consider than refrigerants, ducting, and utility hookups when installing rooftop equipment. Safety procedures should also be a concern as rooftop installers confront falling risks, large heavy equipment, and the operation of ladders, lifts, and cranes.

According to the most recent National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2006 report, the number of fatal work-related injuries in the United States totaled 5,703, which was later revised upward to 5,840 in April of 2008. Fatal work injuries specifically involving falls increased 5 percent over 2005.

The 827 fatal falls in 2006 was the third highest total since 1992, when the fatality census began. In spite of an emphasis on safety both from government agencies and employers, fatal falls from roofs increased from 160 fatalities in 2005 to 184 in 2006, a rise of 15 percent.


In preventing falls, the safety of rooftop workers does not rely on one source. In fact, according to the Construction Roundtable of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Alliance Program, the responsibility of employee safety rests with both the employer and the employee.

“It only takes a second for a fall to occur and falling only a few feet can result in serious injury or death,” warned the roundtable. “Falls from elevations account for approximately one-third of all deaths in construction.”

To help construction employers plan, implement, and maintain fall-prevention programs, the roundtable released the following checklist.

• Develop a written fall-prevention plan.

• Identify potential fall hazards prior to each project and during daily walk-arounds. Pay attention to hazards associated with routine and nonroutine tasks.

• Eliminate the need for fall protection where possible by rescheduling, isolating, or changing the task.

• Ensure that fall-protection equipment is appropriate for the task, in good condition, and used properly.

• Conduct general fall-prevention training on a regular basis.

• Train workers on the specific fall hazards identified and on the required personal protective equipment.

• Conduct regular inspections of fall-protection equipment in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and OSHA requirements.

• Team up with other contractor employers and employees to identify best practices and share fall-prevention solutions.

The roundtable, however, didn’t leave the full responsibility on the employer’s desk. It released a safety checklist for employees to follow in order to prevent falls:

• Understand the company’s written fall-prevention plan.

• Attend and participate in fall-prevention training.

• Use fall-prevention equipment if required for the job. Be sure that the equipment is right for the task, fits properly, and is in good condition.

• Inspect fall-protection equipment and devices before each use.

• Make sure that floor holes, open shafts, and riser penetrations are protected by sturdy guardrails or covers.

• Get specialized training before working on scaffolds, lifts, or ladders.

• When using scaffolds, make sure there is proper access, full planking, stable footing, and guard railing.

• Keep your feet firmly on the platform of a boom lift and tie-off at all times.

• Choose the correct ladder for the task, read the instructions, and be sure that the ladder is in good condition. Check for surrounding hazards, stable footing, and the proper angle.

• Indentify skylights and make sure they are properly protected.

• Contact the supervisor if fall hazards are evident or questions arise.


When using a ladder, three major factors must be considered and examined according to OSHA standards: load, angle, and rungs.

Whether self-supporting (foldout) or nonself-supporting (leaning), portable ladders must be able to support at least four times the maximum intended load. OSHA makes an exception for extra-heavy-duty metal or plastic ladders, requiring that they sustain 3.3 times the maximum intended load. The angle of leaning ladders is to be positioned that the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is about one-fourth the working length of the ladder, said OSHA. In the case of job-made wooden ladders, that angle should equal about one-eighth the working length.

The spacing, shape, and covering of ladder rungs also are important to ladder safety. OSHA requires that ladder rungs, cleats, or steps be parallel, level, and uniformly spaced when the ladder is in position for use.

“Rungs must be spaced 10 to 14 inches apart,” said OSHA. “For extension trestle ladders, the spacing must be 8 to 18 inches for the base and 6 to 12 inches on the extension section.”

The rungs must also be shaped so that an employee’s foot cannot slide off, and it must be skid resistant.

OSHA cautioned ladder users to keep ladders free of oil, grease, wet paint, and other slipping hazards, and instructed users to inspect the areas around the top and the bottom of ladders to ensure they are clear of hazards.

Most importantly, OSHA warned users: “Never use a ladder for any purpose other than the one for which it was designed.”

When Jimmie Thom, second-generation owner of Atel Air in Williamsburg, Ontario, was asked what specific tool made rooftop installations easier, all he said was, “Cranes!”

The list of rules and regulations for safe operation of the multiple crane types is many pages long. According to OSHA, employers using cranes must comply with the manufacturer’s specifications and limitations of the machinery.

Load determinations should be made by qualified engineers competent in the field, and recommended operating speeds, special hazard warnings, and instructions should be conspicuously posted on all equipment. An illustration of hand signals must be posted on the jobsite as well. The employer is responsible to ensure that annual inspections, complying with OSHA standards, are performed.

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Publication date:06/16/2008