ASTM to develop skylight standard to prevent falls and fatalities

February 5, 2008
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Early morning, Jan. 26, two teenagers fell, one fatally, through a skylight over an elementary school gymnasium in Port Jervis, N.Y. The accident will likely be one of 50 or 60 fatal skylight falls to happen in 2008, according to the annual accident averages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the Department of Labor, Washington, D.C.

Incidents such as these led ASTM International, West Conshohocken, Pa., to develop a skylight safety standard, according to a Jan. 25 ASTM release.

The task group will develop standard methods of tests that simulate falls onto skylights and smoke vents for human impact resistance.

The problem of fatal falls stems from insufficient safety standards for skylights and ignorance about the dangers of skylights, says J. Nigel Ellis, president of Ellis Fall Protection Engineering, Wilmington, Del. Ellis will head the ASTM Skylight Test Committee.

“There is unbelievable ignorance by the thousands of trades people who visit roofs in ones and twos. … But, why would any reasonable person suspect such a catastrophic problem,” he says.

The 1984 OSHA standard for skylights requires units to be able to support a 200-pound sandbag, something Ellis calls “woefully inadequate.” The standard does not take into account the force of a falling person. “Proper testing has to simulate … a wrist of 2-inch diameter hitting the skylight with twice the body weight, approximately a 600-pound force,” Ellis says.

The ASTM Standard will develop testing for a 1,200-pound force, because two people can often stand on one skylight, Ellis says.

“[The standard] will allow us to have skylights that are safe to walk on—not that we want to encourage it,” Ellis says. “Lives of workers from at least 17 trades that work on rooftops near skylights will be saved.”

Ellis says the ASTM committee consists of skylight manufacturers, associations and representatives from the National Institute for Occupations Safety and Heath, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga. The group will hold its first conference call at the end of February.

Read an article about the Jan. 26 death of a New York teen
here.