How to prevent dangerous falls through a skylight


The edges of a roof are not the only areas where the danger of falling is present. In this post, we’ll discuss another common fall hazard that should be considered when work is done on a flat roof.

Falling through a skylight

For many, the danger of falling through a skylight is less obvious than the danger of falling off the roof edge. But it is with good reason that in many countries, lawmakers regard roof lights as holes in the roof and expect building owners to safeguard them as such.

Skylights are often wrongfully considered to be safe. Whether it concerns a plastic dome or a skylight made of glass: it’s very hard to tell whether a skylight is able to carry a load. Therefore, building owners will have to rely on common sense in many situations. In other words: they’ll have to assume skylights are unsafe, unless they are able to prove otherwise.

Falling through a skylight will have serious consequences, especially because skylights are commonly installed in the roofs of spaces with a high ceiling, such as warehouses or factory halls.

Building owners

Building owners should know that fall hazards caused by skylights are real and often underestimated, and that it is their responsibility to protect the people working near skylights.

It is by no means safe for a worker to be in the vicinity of a fall-through hazard, without being protected against falling. Of course, the safety of the people underneath the roof is at risk as well.

So what can be done to prevent workers from falling through a skylight?

Guarding skylights

First of all, it’s possible to place a certain type of cover over the skylight, so that workers can safely walk on the cover. All the separate skylights on the roof will have to be covered individually. Skylights come in many different forms, so covering them may not always be an option.

Often, freestanding guardrails are used to prevent workers from coming near a skylight. This is a simple fall protection measure that can be used for skylights of all shapes and sizes. Guardrails can also be placed around multiple skylights, securing all of them at the same time. Especially on roofs with a large number of skylights, this may be a cost-effective solution.

Guardrails create safe walkways for workers in the vicinity of an unsafe skylight. However, workers will not be able to reach the skylight itself if there are guardrails placed around it, or if it is covered.

Skylight Fall Protection

A worker who is anchored to a horizontal lifeline can safely access the skylights on a roof. 

Skylight maintenance

Of course, the choice to implement skylights in a building’s design is often made to bring more natural light into the space below. A dirty or damaged skylight can completely spoil this light, not to mention the appearance of a building.

Skylights are constantly exposed to the weather, and therefore require cleaning. Thus, the ability to access the skylights themselves is often desirable.

If access to the skylight itself is required, then personal fall protection must be considered. In addition, a safety net could be used to protect the people cleaning or repairing the skylight, although this is not always a viable option. Of course, safety net systems are designed to combat the effects of a fall (rather than the cause), so this is not a solution.

Personal fall protection

Workers can safely clean skylights or replace damaged skylights when anchored to a horizontal lifeline system. In this case, a user’s harness is connected to a slider which runs over the lifeline (or anchorage line) by means of a safety lanyard.

A single horizontal lifeline trajectory can be used to offer anchorage for work on a whole series of skylights. The lifeline can even be positioned in such a way that it protects users against multiple fall hazards along the route of the lifeline.

For example, the horizontal lifeline pictured below can be used for anchorage whether work is done near the roof edges (on the right), or near the skylights (on the left).

A single horizontal lifeline can be used to anchor workers in the vicinity of the roof edge (right), or near the unsafe skylights (left).

It’s quite easy to install a horizontal lifeline on a roof. Also, a lifeline on top of the roof is not visible from the space beneath.

All this makes a horizontal lifeline a subtle, cost-effective and easy-to-install fall protection solution to protect workers from falling through a skylight.

What’s the best solution?

The roofs of warehouses, factories, or similar structures often contain quite a lot of trip and fall hazards. In these cases, it’s recommended to look for a comprehensive solution that deals with all the fall hazards on the roof.

Placing guardrails is an effective solution to create safe walkways for people working in the vicinity of the skylights. This may be more efficient than guarding or covering each skylight one by one.

If access to the skylights themselves is required, a horizontal lifeline is an effective way to tackle multiple fall hazards with a well-planned lifeline trajectory. Of course, workers must be able to connect to the lifeline in a safe area and receive proper training to work with the system.

More Information

If you would like more information about our fall protection solutions, request our fall protection brochure.  For advice about the most suitable fall protection solution for your building or project, it’s best to contact us directly.

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