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Roof Hatches: Know the Risks

The dangers of open roof hatches are frequently overlooked and underestimated. Many workers often leave the hatch door open to avoid getting locked onto the roof. A person walking or working on the roof can sustain debilitating or fatal injuries if they accidentally fall into the hatch opening.

Also, roofs are susceptible to uneven terrain, slippery conditions, and high winds. Reflective surfaces may also cause workers to experience impaired visibility. If a roof hatch is located near the edge of the roof, a worker could be a foot away from a deadly fall if he or she gets distracted, trips, or loses balance after exiting a hatch. And with twisting and climbing involved, it’s easy to miss a step while egressing through a roof hatch.

Roof Hatch Protection

The lack of proper guarding protection is one of the major causes of falls through open roof hatches. OSHA requires workers on walking or working roof surface to be protected from falling through holes more than 6 feet above lower levels by one of the following:

  • Guardrails

The most common way to protect an opening in the rooftop is with a guardrail. A free-standing, non-penetrating guardrail acts as hazard barriers between the workers and the open roof hatch. A hatch guardrail provides a sturdy grab bar for workers stepping off the ladder, which can save them from falling back inside the building. When guardrails are used, they should be erected on all unprotected sides of a roof hatch. If the hatch door is tall enough in its opened state, the side it opens toward is not considered an unprotected side. This is because a worker will likely see it and the door will also cover the hole if the worker was to fall on that side.

  • Personal Fall Arrest Systems

A personal fall arrest system is used to stop a worker who is falling from a height. This system consists of a full-body harness, connectors, anchorage, vertical lifeline assembly, deceleration device, shock-absorbing lanyard, and an appropriate anchor point on the roof. Anchorages used by workers should not be separate from anchorage used to suspend or support platforms. They should be capable of support at least 5,000 pounds per employee attached. Personal fall arrest systems can be permanent or temporary.

  • Covers

Covers used to protect roof hatches and other openings should be capable of supporting at least twice the maximum weight of employees, gear, tools, materials, and equipment expected to cross over the cover. Covers should also be clearly marked by color-coding or bold words such as “COVER” or “HOLE” to provide warning of the hazard. Also, the covers must be secured to prevent displacement by equipment, employees, or wind.

Personal fall arrest systems and covers may not be sufficient if the roof hatch is located on the edge of the roof. As stipulated by The 2018 International Building Code, a guardrail must be installed around any roof hatch within 10’ of a roof edge. OSHA requires guardrail protection for any opening within 15 feet of the roof edge. This helps protect workers exiting the hatch and those who may trip over the hatch’s curb. Workers should be trained to securely close the hatch immediately after stepping onto the roof and to only open it when exiting the hatch.

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