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Workers Falling Through Skylights

  • Issued: February 12, 2013
  • Content last reviewed: February 2013

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

Hazard summary

Falls from heights can occur when working near inadequately guarded rooftop skylights or when other fall protection measures and procedures have not been implemented at a workplace. The falls can result in critical injuries or even death.

Workplace parties – including building owners, constructors, employers, supervisors, and workers – may not fully realize how serious fall hazards can be when working on, around or near the edge of a skylight.

Workers should not be assigned to work near a skylight without appropriate fall protection measures and procedures to ensure their safety.

Background

Workers may work on roofs:

  • during new construction or installation projects
  • while performing structural repairs
  • to decommission a building
  • to service or maintain skylights, windows, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment, lighting fixtures, microwave dishes, security cameras, two-way radio antennas and solar panels, etc.

Other related construction or maintenance activities can also take place on or from roof surfaces where there are skylights, including snow removal and exterior facade remediation, etc.

The Ministry of Labour has investigated a number of serious critical injuries and deaths resulting from workers falling through skylights:

Table 1: Event summary for workers falling through skylights
Date Event Summary
February 2012 A worker was backing up while installing solar panels on a roof when the worker plunged 6 meters (20 feet) onto a concrete floor below and died. The worker had fallen on a plastic-domed skylight which broke under his weight.
January 2011 A worker was walking backwards while doing roof repairs when the worker, tripped and landed on a plastic-domed skylight which broke under the impact. The worker plunged to the concrete floor below and died.
September 2008 A worker was backing up while helping to move a wheelbarrow when the worker tripped and fell onto a plastic-domed skylight. The skylight broke as a result of the impact and the worker fell to the concrete floor below and died.
June 2006 A worker sat on a skylight which broke under the worker's weight. The worker fell about 14 feet and suffered serious injuries. It was the worker's first day on the job.
June 2004 A worker was cleaning debris from a roof near an uncovered skylight opening when the worker fell through the opening onto the concrete floor 5.8 meters (19 feet) below. The worker suffered serious injuries.
January 2004 A roofing worker sat on a snow covered skylight which gave way under the worker's weight. The worker fell about 3 meters (10 feet) and received serious injuries.
September 2002 A construction worker fell through a plastic skylight, plunged 7.6 meters (25 feet) and died.
July 1999 A worker was repairing curbing around a skylight on the roof of an industrial building. The worker was walking backwards while dragging a ladder when the worker fell through the skylight and died.

Skylight hazard

Skylights are made of various products and transparent materials, including polycarbonates, glass, plastics or some other combination of transparent materials.

Skylights are normally designed to withstand forces such as the weight of snow; however, they can fail under the weight of a worker. This can result in a worker falling through the skylight to a surface below.

A plastic skylight's composition and strength may deteriorate over time due to the effects of sunlight and atmospheric contaminants. Unless a skylight's ability to support all loads to which it may be subjected (including the impact of a falling worker) can be determined, it must be treated as a fall hazard.

Each sector regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets out specific regulatory requirements to protect workers from fall hazards. Constructors, employers, supervisors and workers, among others, have an obligation to know and comply with the regulations that apply to their workplaces.

For workplaces where sector regulations do not generally apply, the employer is required to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker from the hazard of falling (OHSA Section 25(2)(h)).

Controls

The following minimum fall protection measures and procedures are recommended to protect workers who may be exposed to the hazard of falling when working on or near skylights on rooftops of buildings or other structures:

  • ensure a risk assessment and job hazard analysis is 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 position (install) temporary guardrails or barriers around or over the skylights?
  • establish and monitor the implementation of a fall protection program. Make continuous improvements, as required, based on knowledge, expertise and practical experience
  • limit rooftop access by implementing a roof permit system in which only authorized people and competent workers can gain access to the roof, and
  • ensure all workers who go up on a roof are trained to recognize, evaluate and control all fall related hazards.

Workers using fall protection equipment must be adequately trained in its use and adequately supervised by a competent person. Worker training must include:

  • the OHSA and regulations applicable to the scope of work to be performed
  • recognition of workplace hazards specific to the work location
  • proper procedures for installing/erecting, maintaining, disassembling, inspecting and using any fall protection systems or equipment
  • the method for reporting problems with, or obtaining guidance on, any fall protection issues that are encountered, and
  • any written procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency.

Specific controls for skylights:

  • Every skylight must be considered to be a fall hazard when workers are on a roof. The only exception is if the employer has obtained an opinion from an Ontario-licensed Professional Engineer that the skylight can withstand any load to which it may be subjected and is not likely to endanger a worker.
  • A Fall Protection Program must be established and implemented to protect workers who work near a skylight and may include the following fall protection measures:
    • temporary guardrails or barriers around a skylight to prevent a worker from falling through or stepping/walking on a skylight
    • a temporary skylight screen, grate or cover of material capable of handling any load imposed by a worker
    • travel restraint systems to prevent a worker from stepping on or falling onto the skylight
    • a fall restricting system designed to limit a worker's free fall.

Legislative/Regulatory References

  • The OHSA covers all provincially regulated workplaces. It sets out requirements for workplace parties, including: building owners, constructors, employers, supervisors and workers. Specific sector regulations apply to construction projects, industrial establishments, mining plants and health care and residential facilities.
  • Employers and supervisors must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers as required by OHSA Sections 25(2)(h) and 27(2)(c) respectively. Employers must provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect his or her health and safety, as required by OHSA Section 25(2)(a). They must also acquaint a worker or his or her supervisor with any work hazards, as required by OHSA Section 25(2)(d).
  • Employers must ensure equipment, materials and protective devices they provide are maintained in good condition (OHSA Section 25(1)(b)) and used as required (Section 25(1)(d)).
  • Supervisors must ensure workers comply with requirements for protective devices, measures and procedures (OHSA Section 27(1)(a) and the regulations).
  • Supervisors must ensure workers use or wear any equipment, protective device or clothing required by the employer (OHSA Section 27(1)(b)).
  • Requirements must be complied with for worker training and the use of any protective clothing, equipment or devices provided as well as the requirement for a fall protection system when workers are exposed to a hazard of falling more than three meters (Sections 10 and 13 of the Health Care and Residential Facilities Regulation and Sections 79 and 85 of the Industrial Establishments Regulation).
  • Under the Regulations for Construction Projects, Section 26 must be complied with if a worker is exposed to certain fall hazards. This applies to situations where the load capacity of a skylight is unknown at a project and/or a worker may be working on or near the skylight.

Training and services

For assistance in developing occupational health and safety policies and programs or to obtain training for you and your staff, contact the appropriate health and safety association:

Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (IHSA)

Training and services for construction, electrical and utilities, aggregates, natural gas, ready-mix concrete and transportation.

Toll-free: 1-800-263-5024 | www.ihsa.ca | Twitter: @IHSAnews

Public Services Health & Safety Association (PSHSA)

Training and services for: hospitals, nursing and retirement homes, residential and community care, universities and colleges, school boards, libraries and museums, municipalities, provincial government and agencies, police, fire and paramedics and First Nations.

Toll Free: 1-877-250-7444 | www.pshsa.ca | Twitter: @PSHSAca

Workplace Safety North (WSN)

Training and services for (province wide): forestry, mining, smelters, refineries, paper, printing and converting.

Toll-free (Ontario): 1-888-730-7821 | www.workplacesafetynorth.ca | Twitter: @WSN_News

Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS)

Training and services for agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors.

Toll-free: 1-877-494-9777 | www.wsps.ca

Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW)

OHCOW provides comprehensive occupational health services to workers concerned about work-related health conditions and to workers, unions and employers who need support to prevent these health conditions from developing. OHCOW services are free of charge.

Toll-free: 1-877-817-0336 | www.ohcow.on.ca | Twitter: @OHCOWclinics

Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC)

As Ontario's designated health and safety training centre, the WHSC provides training for workers, their representatives and employers from every sector and region of the province.

Toll-free: 1-888-869-7950 | www.whsc.on.ca | Twitter: @WHSCtraining

More information

Service Ontario e-Laws

Your local Ontario Ministry of Labour office

Call toll–free

Call 1-877-202-0008 any time to report critical injuries, fatalities or work refusals.

Call 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday for general inquiries about workplace health and safety. Always call 911 in an emergency.

ISBN 978-1-4606-1018-3 (HTML)

Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.

It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.