Fall Protection in the Roofing and Construction Industry

BY: Carl Habekost, Esq.

The duty to have fall protection in the construction industry (OSHA section 1926.501) regularly tops the list of the most frequently cited OSHA standards.  But fall protection, although of paramount importance, is not the only requirement for roofing and construction companies in developing an effective safety program. In 2016, OSHA published “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs in Construction.”  In the publication, OSHA recommended seven core elements of an effective safety program:

  • Management Leadership
  • Worker participation
  • Hazard identification and assessment
  • Hazard prevention and control
  • Education and training
  • Program evaluation and improvement
  • Communication and coordination for employers on multi-employer worksites


Many standards in OSHA section 1926 require construction employers to initiate and maintain a safety program.  For example, section 1926.21(b)(2) requires employers to “instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to his work environment to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.”  Further, OSHA section 1926.20(b)(2) requires construction employers to frequently and regularly inspect the jobsites, materials and equipment with a “competent person”, defined as “a person who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has the authority to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”


For roofing companies, an effective safety program is more than just using fall protection.  The employer must assess the structural integrity of the work area pursuant to 1926.501(a)(2).  If hazards exist or indicationss of compromised structural integrity, a “competent person” must evaluate the area to confirm the surface is safe, and then the employer must select an applicable fall protection system.  Generally, guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems must be used to protect employees from falling 6 feet or more to a lower level.  But, there is a distinction noted in the regulations between low-slope and steep-slope roofs.  For example, when employees are working on steep roofs with a slope greater than 4 inches of vertical rise for every 12 inches of horizontal length (4:12),  the employer must provide guardrail systems with toeboards, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.  For low-slope roofs (slope less than 4:12), the employer has more options to protect its employees.


Training and retraining is an essential component of a safety program for roofing companies.  Section 1926.503 requires training to all employees exposed to fall hazards.  Well, for roofing companies, that might very well be all employees.  All training must be provided by a “competent person” and must cover the following areas:  i)  the nature of the fall hazards on the job site; ii) the correct procedures for erecting, maintaining, disassembling, and inspecting the fall protection systems; iii) the use and operation of guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems, warning line systems, safety monitoring systems, controlled access zones, and other protection to be used; iv) the role of each employee in the safety monitoring system when such system is used; v) the limitations of the use of mechanical equipment during the performance of roofing work on low-slope roofs; and vi) the correct procedures for the handling and storage of equipment and materials and the erection of overhead protection.  Employers are also required to verify compliance with the training requirements by preparing a written certification record as stated in 1926.503(b).  Finally, the employer must retrain an employee whenever the employer has reason to believe than an employee lacks the required understanding pursuant to 1926.503(c).


Roofing employees are easy to see for OSHA compliance officers driving in the area.  Roofing companies, therefore, must understand their responsibilities to comply with applicable OSHA standards and to protect their employees from recognized hazards.  Please contact a member of our Labor and Employment section with questions or concerns.


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