Making the right choice

OSHA requirements may complicate fall protection for single-ply roof systems

For several years, NRCA has been awarded a Susan Harwood grant from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop and deliver a full-day fall-protection training class for roofing workers at various locations throughout the U.S. The class focuses on fall hazards common in roofing and fall-protection systems and controls to minimize or eliminate these hazards.

One question NRCA instructors often ask during the class is: "Would your choice of a fall-protection system or systems be different depending on the type of roof system being installed?" The answer expressed is almost universally "no." However, most attendees usually agree each roof system installation presents unique challenges for effective fall-protection implementation. This may be especially evident with the use of warning-line and safety-monitoring systems, in particular when single-ply roof systems are being installed.

The rules

According to OSHA rules, roofing workers on low-slope roofs (4:12 or less) must be protected from falls at heights of 6 feet or greater by guardrail, safety net or personal fall-arrest systems—commonly referred to as "conventional" fall-protection systems. Conventional fall-protection systems are required to protect other construction workers covered under OSHA regulations, as well. In 1980, after initially failing to distinguish roofing work from other work when requiring fall-protection systems, OSHA provided additional fall-protection options for roofing work. The agency finally acknowledged conventional systems cannot always be implemented for roofing work.