SPOT THE SAFETY VIOLATION: Skylights Can Let in More than Just Light

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Looks like something—or someone—fell through this skylight. What should’ve been done to prevent such a fall?

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Skylights are typically made of materials that are able to withstand some weight on them, such as the weight of a snowfall or small animal. But they’re usually not strong enough to withstand the weight of a person. So if a worker stands, walks, kneels, sits or leans on a skylight, he can fall through and get seriously injured or killed.

That’s why skylights such as the one in the picture should generally be guarded to prevent workers or materials from falling through them. Example of a properly guarded skylight:

In addition, workers working on or around skylights should wear appropriate fall protection.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour recently released a hazard alert on workers falling through skylights. To illustrate the seriousness of the hazard, the alert includes these examples of workers injured or killed in such falls:

Date

Event Summary

February 2012

A worker was backing up while installing solar panels on a roof when he plunged 6 meters (20 feet) onto a concrete floor below and died. He’d fallen on a plastic-domed skylight, which broke under his weight.

January 2011

A worker was walking backwards while doing roof repairs when he tripped and landed on a plastic-domed skylight, which broke under the impact. He fell to the concrete floor below and died.

September 2008

A worker was backing up while helping to move a wheelbarrow when he tripped and fell onto a plastic-domed skylight. The skylight broke as a result of the impact. The worker fell to the concrete floor below and died.

June 2006

A worker sat on a skylight, which broke under his weight. He fell about 14 feet and suffered serious injuries. It was his first day on the job.

June 2004

A worker was cleaning debris from a roof near an uncovered skylight opening when he fell through the opening onto the concrete floor 5.8 meters (19 feet) below and suffered serious injuries.

January 2004

A roofer sat on a snow-covered skylight, which gave way under his weight. He fell about 3 meters (10 feet) and suffered serious injuries.

September 2002

A construction worker fell through a plastic skylight, plunged 7.6 meters (25 feet) and died.

These are just a few examples from one jurisdiction. Such falls happen across Canada and far too often. And it’s important to note that falls through skylights are very often fatal.

How to Protect Workers

The MOL alert recommends that employers take these minimum steps to protect workers who may be exposed to the hazard of falling when working on or near skylights:

  • Ensure a risk assessment and job hazard analysis are performed before any work takes place. The analysis should answer the following questions:
  • Are skylights installed at the worksite?
  • In what condition are the skylights?
  • Can the skylights support the impact of a falling worker?
  • Are the skylights suitably guarded or shielded to prevent a worker from falling through?
  • Is there space to install temporary guardrails or barriers around or over the skylights?
  • Establish and monitor the implementation of a fall protection program.
  • Limit rooftop access by implementing a roof permit system in which only authorized people and competent workers can gain access to the roof.
  • Ensure all workers who go up on a roof are trained to recognize, evaluate and control all fall related hazards.

The OHS laws in every jurisdiction require employers to take steps to protect workers from falls through openings, such as skylights. There are four basic steps employers should take if workers could be exposed to the risk of a fall through any kind of opening:

1) Identify hazardous openings;

2) Install guardrails or coverings that comply with the requirements for these safety measures;

3) Develop a hazardous openings policy; and

4) Train workers on that policy.

And make sure that you choose the appropriate fall protection for workers who could fall through a skylight or other opening.

Go to Safety Smart for a safety talk on falls through openings. Not a Safety Smart member? Sign up for a free 14-day trial.