The Importance Of Safe Harnessing Practices

Joey Dorwart, in his safety harness pose
The world can look mighty purdy from a rooftop.  But It can also be quite dangerous.  You're faced with the obvious:  an incline that leans in the direction of down, towards a distance that could impair you for life.  Fact:  falling is a major cause of death in America for workers.

That's why in the 1970's the federal government came up with OSHA:  Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  Which, for the most part, is a really good idea.  There are tons of programs available online to help you become certified with OSHA.  For example, OSHA-10 requires ten hours of study time, with each section followed by a comprehensive test.

Many will argue that OSHA does not prepare you for real life.  Working on PV installations, and being responsible for the safety of others on the job, I have come across all types of situations.  So here is what I suggest for safe and easy solar installation work practices.

In all situations of areas above 6', OSHA requires that you wear a harness and be attached to a rope that is held down with 5000 lbs. of resistance strength.  You can't share an anchor with another worker.  Each worker needs his or her own personal fall arrest safety system.

This is real talk from a real installer about actual situations.  In the company I worked for, we were taught to carry panels on our shoulder up ladders.  It wasn't until someone fell off a ladder climbing up with a panel when we started paying more attention to the wind forces present on the job site.  We also implemented retractable rope-grabs that we could use while carrying panels up ladders at that point.

Here are a few suggestions to installers out there.  I know that OSHA isn't always watching, and the foreman might be pre-occupied.  But if you're an installer, and you want to be safe, here are a few rules that will help you live to install another day.

Flat Roofs
In flat roof situations, it's best to have all areas marked off with caution tape, with barriers constructed around the entire perimeter.  It's an option that prevents that situation from becoming cluttered with rope.

Roofs 30° or Less
In situations where the roof is not at a steep incline, the best way to handle this from a realistic perspective is to have the safety system completely installed.  Have an anchor up there.  Wear your harness.  Have ropes.  It's been my experience, with sure-footed roofers who often take risks that they shouldn't, that it's best to propose a realistic approach than to enforce rules that no one is willing to follow.  If you are in a situation where a rope becomes necessary to grab, it's up to your own sensibility to clip in and make that move.  It makes it easier if you are already wearing a harness, and the rope is available for you to grab.

When a rope isn't being depended on entirely for support, it can become a tripping hazard for an installer who is more concerned with the task at hand, than the rope that the worker might consider unnecessary, depending on their own self-assuredness.

Roofs 31° or More
36° is around the point where harnessing systems are depended on by installers to keep them from sliding off the roof.  A situation where your personal safety system is also your lifeline, and your weight is being held by the rope to keep you from falling constantly, is quite different from one where it's merely to keep you safe in case you accidentally take a major spill or lose your balance and fall off a rooftop.

Mounting system rails are often used as toe boards, supporting installers' weight once they're installed.  Often on steep roofs, an installer will assemble and fasten the bottom rails first, so that there is something to stand on as the upper rails are installed.  It's important, in those situations, for an installer to recognize that their weight will affect the distance between the two rails by the amount that it bends it downward.  If even by a matter of less than an inch, it could affect a mounting system like Sunframe adversely.