Roof Falls

Tragic But Preventable Construction Accidents

The construction accident attorneys at Block O'Toole & Murphy continue to study workplace safety. The following article will examine falls from roofs at worksites.

Roofers consistently stare down danger every day they show up to work. Why is this? Falls from roofs are among the most common and most dangerous accidents at a construction site. Yet, falls from roofs remain some of our most preventable construction accidents.

A thorough investigation into a 48-foot fall that claimed the life of a young Hispanic roofer illustrates the tragic issue. The investigation, by MIFACE (Michigan Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation), determined that the fatal fall was caused by an improperly-covered roof hatch and by the contractors' failure to implement an accident prevention program-even though there were written company policies in existence that would have prevented the fatal accident had they only been followed.

A recent study, funded by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and relying on national data from 1992-2009, indicates that roof falls make up one third of all fatal construction falls. The NIOSH study also found that construction workers with higher rates of fatal falls from roofs included younger (under 20) and older (over 44) workers, Hispanics and immigrant workers.

The roofer who fell to his death in Michigan was a member of a union and had 12-15 years' experience at the time of the tragic accident. He was a Mexican native whose primary language was Spanish, but he was able to understand and speak English. About one third of the workers on the site were native Spanish speakers, according to the Safety Director. Inexcusably, the written safety policies were not available in Spanish.

Several communication lapses also occurred between and among the general contractor and multiple subcontractor companies that were on the site at the time of the accident, according to the MIFACE investigation report.

On the day of the accident, the decedent roofer was assisting his foreman in moving insulation sheets from one area of the roof to another area where they were to be installed for roof drainage. The foreman indicated that the decedent had lifted one of the insulation sheets and then the foreman heard a noise and turned around, witnessing the decedent fall onto a metal sheet covering a roof hatch. The foreman tried to grab the decedent, but was unable to do so. The metal sheet cover gave way and the decedent fell 48 feet through the 5' by 5' hatch to his death. He was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency responders.

The metal sheet cover that the decedent roofer fell through was not secured. A Michigan OSHA division ultimately issued citations for 'willful serious' category violations that included failure to secure the cover and for failure to have a cover "capable of supporting, without failure, at least twice the weight of all employees...that may be imposed on the cover." Workers interviewed after the accident indicated that they were not aware that the cover was not secured.

The investigation report identified many areas in which such roof fall accidents can be prevented, including: identifying and communicating hazards on the job site; identifying and communicating safety responsibilities in construction contracts; creating on-site employee-based health and safety committees that are actually functional rather than just existing in name; properly labeling all roof hole covers; daily hazard assessments to identify and mitigate safety hazards; and assuring safety plans and programs are implemented and followed at a construction site from the project's start to finish.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a roof related fall, you need to have the right construction accident lawyers by your side. The construction accident lawyers at Block O'Toole & Murphy have been fighting for victims of construction accidents and roof falls for decades. They have a track record of verdicts and settlements that demonstrates their commitment to fighting on behalf of injured workers. For a FREE consultation you can call 212.736.5300


CDC: Hispanic Roofer Dies After Falling Through an Improperly Secured Roof Hatch Cover

CDC: Construction Safety and Health

CDC: Fall Prevention Fact Sheet

OSHA Fact Sheet: Reducing Falls During Residential Construction: Roof Sheathing

OSHA: Fall Hazards at Work Site

OSHA: Worker Paralyzed in Fall From Roof

EHS Today: Falls from Roofs Account for One-Third of Construction Fall Fatalities

OH&S: 'I Fell Off the Roof Today'