Fall-related occupational injuries and fatalities are serious problems in the U.S. construction industry. An important sub-set of falls-to-lower-level incidents is when workers fall through holes, collapsing surfaces, or skylights. OSHA regulations require that roof holes must be protected by a guardrail or cover and nearby workers must use personal fall-arrest systems. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Division of Safety Research, Morgantown, WV initiated a pilot project to evaluate the effectiveness of guardrail systems. Two commercial edgeprotection products were evaluated as perimeter guarding around a hole in a wooden simulated roof deck. Installation methods for the edge-protection products, which had not been designed for use as guardrails for holes, are compared to job-built guardrails constructed of 2-in x 4-in lumber. To evaluate how well the edge-protection products comply with existing OSHA regulations as a hole guardrail, an experimental hypothesis and a laboratory-based testing system were developed. OSHA regulations require that "a force of at least 200 pounds" shall be supported by the top rail of the guardrail system. The governing variable (200-lb force) was generated by using a weighted rescue manikin mounted on a specially designed hinged steel frame. By adjusting the manikin's fall distance, a dynamic 200-lb force was generated at the top rail. Five different guardrail configurations were built using the two commercial products and the job-built guardrail. Test subjects were nine carpenters. Each subject constructed the five different configurations. Because of adequate fasteners and quality of construction, all 45 configurations met the 200-lb OSHA requirement. Installation time for one of the commercial products was 30% quicker than the normal job-built configuration (27.6 min versus 39.6 min). Even though a substantial initial outlay is required for that commercial product, after about 40 separate uses, the break-even point will be reached, where the initial cost will be repaid and that commercial product will begin to save money for the purchaser.
Occupational injuries and fatalities caused by falls-from-elevation is a serious problem in U.S. workplaces. Previous research (Parsons, Pizatella, and Collins 13; Personick 27) indicated that the construction industry, and that roofers and slaters in particular, had elevated fatality and injury rates. Data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), indicate that during 1992-2000, 5,380 U.S. workers died as a result of a fall to a lower level. An important sub-set of the fall-to-lower-level category involves workers falling through existing holes in floors or roofs, or through collapsing floor and roof surfaces, including skylights. During 1992–2000, 605 workers lost their lives from fall-through events - 282 (46.6%) through roof and floor holes, 173 (28.6%) through collapsing roof and floor surfaces, and 150 (24.8%) through skylights (Bobick 897).