What Cal-OSHA Says About Skylights

skylight protection cal-osha

Unprotected skylights are dangerous and kill people each year. It’s too often that a worker trips, leans, or backs into one of these glass death traps and plummets to the ground below. For this reason alone, protecting these hazards need to be top of mind. OSHA has listed how to provide a barrier between the worker and the skylight best, however, if you are in California your rules will vary.

The first question that arises is, "When does a skylight need to be protected?" The short answer is, whenever someone is within 6’ of the skylight. This is a broad answer, but in it, you will find no exceptions or the ability to misinterpret. The reality is people need to access roofs for one reason or another. If a person gets within 6’ of a skylight for any reason, that skylight must be protected. Given that, unless you literally cannot access an area with skylights, or have administrative controls in place to avoid specific areas, all your skylights will need protection. It is the responsibility of the building owner to ensure this is the case.

"Any employee approaching within 6 feet of any skylight shall be protected from falling through the skylight or skylight opening by any one of the following methods..." - 3212 (e)

Needing skylight protection under these circumstances is relatively similar to federal OSHA. Where requirements start to differ dramatically is in how strong the screen needs to be. Cal-OSHA requires that skylight screens be designed by a qualified person. In that design, the screen must be able to support 400 lbs or twice the weight of the employee with tools/equipment. On top of that, the screen must be able to receive that load without deflecting to the point of breaking the glass. That is much more robust than OSHA’s 200 lbs.

"Floor and roof opening covers shall be designed by a qualified person and be capable of safely supporting the greater of 400 pounds or twice the weight of the employees, equipment, and materials that may be imposed on any one square foot area of the cover at any time…" 3212 (b)

"They shall also be of such design, construction and mounting that under design loads or impacts, they will not deflect downward sufficiently to break the glass below them... “ 3212 (1)

There are a couple of other notable requirements set by Cal-OSHA on the skylight screens. Most common screens are a grid-like wire mesh. These will need to be constructed with openings no larger than 4" x 4”. If the protection is fabricated from slats instead, the openings shall not be more than 2” wide. It is also important to mention that the skylight screen should be secured not to allow accidental removal or displacement.

"The construction shall be of grillwork, with openings not more than 4 inches by 4 inches or of slatwork with openings not more than 2 inches wide with length unrestricted, or of other material of equal strength and similar configuration…" - 3212 (1)

Aside from screens, Cal-OSHA allows for other forms of protection assuming they follow the correct criteria. Here are a few examples:

  • Guardrails

    • Must meet the requirements of Section 3209

  • Personal Fall Arrest Systems

    • Must meet the requirements of Section 1670 of the Construction Safety Orders

  • The Skylight Being The Cover

    • Must obtain documentation from the manufacturer that the skylight will meet the strength requirements of subsection (b) for the dates that work will be performed in the vicinity of the skylight. Such documentation shall be obtained prior to the start of work and shall be made available upon request.

Protecting your skylight should not be complicated. Screens are available that clamp on directly to the frame and will be designed to meet Cal-OSHA specifically. By installing simple screens on all your skylights, you can significantly reduce the possibility of workplace fatality for a minimal cost.

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