At least six people have fallen through skylights in New England this past week as a result of snow-covered rooftops—the most recent accident happening Tuesday in Westwood, Mass.
A 17-year-old fell more than 25 feet after stepping on a skylight while helping shovel snow off of a store warehouse. The teen suffered serious injuries and had to be airlifted to a hospital in Boston, according to multiple reports.
The skylight fall comes two days after a worker in Canton, Mass., fell through a skylight 40 feet to his death. Four similar accidents, though not fatal, have been reported in New England states since last Wednesday.
The alarming number of incidents has prompted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an advisory to news outlets throughout New England, according to Ted Fitzgerald, regional director for public affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor, “alerting them to the snow removal hazards” and asking them to highlight various safety messages.
He says OSHA’s compliance assistance specialists are also “getting the word out to stakeholders and others about rooftop snow removal hazards and safeguards, including a link to the appropriate OSHA Hazard Alert.”
“Employers need to take precautions, assess hazards, ensure workers are trained and properly equipped and safeguards are in place before they go up on a roof to remove snow,” says Fitzgerald. “One factor to consider is whether there are any hazards on the roof—such as skylights—that might become hidden by the snow and need to be marked so that workers can see them.” OSHA recommends marking such hazards ahead of time if snow accumulation is to be expected.
If the act of working on a roof is required to remove snow, OSHA advises the use of required fall protection. “OSHA standards require employers to evaluate hazards and protect workers from falls when working at heights of four feet or more above a lower level (1910.23) or six feet or more for construction work (1926.501).”
The Hazard Alert recommends the following if workers are to access roofs and other elevated surfaces to clear snow:
- Train workers on fall hazards and the proper use of fall protection equipment, as required by 1910.132(f)(1) and 1926.503(a)(1).
- Provide and ensure that workers use fall protection equipment if they are removing snow in areas that are not adequately guarded (e.g., with a guardrail system or cover) as required by STD 01-01-013 and 1926.501(b).
- Instruct workers who wear personal fall protection equipment to put on their harnesses and buckle them snugly before mounting the roof.
- Have a plan for rescuing a fallen worker caught by a fall protection system, as required by 1926.502(d)(20).
- Remove or clearly mark rooftop or landscaping features that could become trip hazards.
ASTM International, meanwhile, is currently working on establishing a new test method for human impact on commercial skylights.
“[ASTM] is comprised of a broad range of stakeholders, including manufacturers of skylights, fall protection specific products and fall prevention consultants,” says Chris Magnuson, first vice president of the Skylight/Sloped Glazing Council and a member of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) Skylight Fall Protection Task Group. “We’re working on developing a specific standard or specification that can be tested. For instance, can a skylight withstand such a weight from such a height?”
According to the scope of the group’s activity, “A consensus based upon standard practices, standard impact test methods, materials commonly used, and risk assessment will be the basis for developing this human fall resistance specification and test method. Exploration of meaningful certification and/or labeling will be examined.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Reports do not indicate what type of skylights were involved. USGlass magazine is further looking into how the types (plastic glazing, glass, etc.) dictate testing, strength, etc.