Rooftop and Facade Access Safety

tjBy: T.J. Treadwell, PE, Associate at CODA Consulting Group

Falls from heights and on the same level (a working surface) are among the leading causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. In response, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a Final Rule to better protect workers in general industry from these hazards by updating and clarifying standards and adding requirements placing the burden on building ownership.

On Nov. 18, 2016, OSHA adopted the Final Rule for Walking-Working Surface and Personal Protective Equipment Fall Protection Systems (part of 29 CFR 1910 subpart D and subpart I), which was effective Jan. 17, 2017. The Final Rule affects a wide range of workers, from painters to warehouse workers to high-rise window washers; it does not change existing construction or agricultural standards.

This Final Rule was long anticipated and has been the subject of much debate since about 1990 when the initial memorandum was issued. The OSHA Final Rule puts the burden of providing a safe work environment for people accessing the façades of a building directly on the shoulders of building owners. In the past building owners have typically assigned this responsibility to contracted vendors. The language used in the Final Rule is “performance-based” rather than specification based, meaning that knowledgeable employers can select the equipment and controls that, “Will be most effective in the particular workplace operation or situation.”

The Final Rule requires that owners provide written certification of a system for accessing the building façade. This is typically in in the form of a Contractor Use Plan, or roof diagram, and load testing/certification report by a testing or engineering firm under the direction of a Professional Engineer. As a building owner, it is critical that you protect yourself and the people working on your building by following these regulations and guidelines.

Most elements of the Final Rule became effective in Jan. 2017, but some provisions had or have delayed effective dates including:

  • Fall hazard and equipment training (May 17, 2017)
  • Certification of permanent anchors for rope descent systems (RDS) (Nov. 20, 2017)
  • Fall arrest systems or safety systems on new and replacement ladders over 24 feet (Nov. 19, 2018)
  • Updating existing ladders over 24 feet with a minimal fall protection system (Nov. 19, 2018)
  • Providing all ladders over 24 feet in height with a ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system (Nov. 18, 2036).

Elements of the Final Rule:

OSHA has recently updated Part 1910, Subpart D (Walking and Working Surfaces), Standard 1910.27 for Scaffolds and RDS. The update aligns the OSHA regulations more closely with other non-regulatory industry standards. The primary update is 1910.27 (b)(1) Anchorages, which provides requirements of the building owner in order to implement RDS at a facility. The building owner must have the equipment identified, tested, certified, and maintained to verify an anchor capacity of 5,000 pounds in any direction, for each employee attached. The notification must be based on an annual inspection and certifications as necessary and at least every 10 years. The requirements had to be implemented no later than Nov. 20, 2017.


OSHA requires a qualified person perform annual inspections and certification of the anchorage points. A Registered Structural Engineer, or Professional Engineer in some states, can legally have an opinion of the structural capacity and integrity of a building component. Further, non-regulatory, industry standards require certification and recertification under the supervision of a Registered Professional Engineer.

OSHA issued a Memorandum for Regional Administrators entitled Enforcement Guidance for General Industry RDS Anchorage Requirements (29 CFR 1910.27(b)(1)), dated Nov. 20, 2017.  The Memorandum notes documentation that OSHA expects building owners to maintain. Further, OSHA recognized in the Memorandum that qualified persons may not be able to update information at all buildings by the deadline. This appears to be due to the lack of qualified persons in the industry. The Memorandum describes how OSHA will determine if building owners have sufficiently demonstrated and documented their efforts to comply with the updated requirements.


OSHA has taken steps to settle long-disputed safety regulations in fall protection. OSHA relied upon input from industry best practices, national consensus standards, technological advancements, and experts in various fields including building owners, window washers, engineers, and equipment manufacturers. In order to create a safe working environment for workers visiting a building, OSHA was forced to make some tough decision regarding the responsibilities of different parties involved in performing work tasks at a building.

Vendors and contractors who visit a building have control over the equipment brought from off-site, but they have no control over building components. The Final Rule puts a burden on the building owner for aspects that cannot readily be controlled by visitors to a building.

Mr. Treadwell is a licensed professional engineer experienced in providing technical recommendations to real estate professionals and institutional investors of commercial property for investments, improvements, and business risk management. He has performed property condition assessments for high and low-rise office, medical, multi-family residential, and industrial warehousing facilities and has managed multiple building and consultant portfolios. He has performed designs, condition surveys, and consulting of roofing, exterior building access, and façade systems. He has conducted engineering peer reviews, prepared scopes for anticipated renovation projects, reviewed construction documents, and conducted regular construction observations to assist lenders and developers.

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