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Study: Homes Raise the Roof Risk

Thursday, March 7, 2013

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Harrowing plunges from skyscrapers and towers draw more attention, but the odds of a fatal fall are actually greatest much closer to home—on a residential roof, in fact, a new study shows.

Residential roofers are the highest risk group for fatal falls, safety researchers report in "Fatal falls from roofs among U.S. construction workers," published in the February issue of the Journal of Safety Research.

Roofing Work

Falls from roofs account for one-third of fatal construction falls, researchers say. Nearly half of the fatal roof falls begin at the roof's edge.

Also at high risk are workers who are under the age of 20, those older than 44, racial minorities, Hispanics and immigrant workers, the study found.

Trends and Patterns

The study was led by researchers at CPWR: The Center for Construction Research and Training and funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The study examined trends and patterns of fatal falls from roofs in the U.S. construction industry over an 18-year period (1992 to 2009), with detailed analysis for 2003 to 2009. Two large national datasets were analyzed: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries and the Current Population Survey.

Small Companies, Big Risk

Falls have long been the leading source of fatalities in construction. Each year in the U.S., falls kill more than 200 construction workers and seriously injure more than 10,000.

The new study shows that roof fatalities accounted for one-third (2,165 of 6,585) of all fatal construction falls from 1992 to 2009.


Hispanic and immigrant workers continue to be at higher-than-average risk of fatal falls, the newest research found.

In addition, a disproportionately high percentage (67 percent) of deaths from roof falls occurred in construction establishments with 10 or fewer employees.

“Roofers, ironworkers, workers employed with roofing contractors or working at residential construction sites had a higher risk of roof fatalities,” the authors reported. “A higher rate of roof fatalities was also found among younger (<20 years) and older (>44 years) workers, Hispanics, and immigrant workers.”

Workers in southern regions also had a higher rate of fatal falls, compared to the construction industry as a whole, the study found.

Roofers at Risk

The new research builds on earlier studies.

In 2011, study leader Xiuwen Sue Dong reported at the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium that the risk of a fatal roof fall for workers younger than 20 and older than 55 was about double the risk for the entire construction industry. From 2003 to 2009, one-third of the victims of fatal roof falls were Hispanic, Dong reported.

And nearly 35 percent of all victims of fatal roof falls were roofers, which is 17 times higher than the rate of all construction workers combined, reported Dong, director of the Data Center at CPWR.

Organizations are trying to reach workers with limited English skills with safety messages.

Dong’s latest study also found that, like other recent injury and fatality data, roof fatalities corresponded with economic cycles. The deaths also differed among construction subgroups and worksites.

Prevention Strategies and Resources

The team recommended prevention strategies that focus on high-risk worker groups and small establishments.

The authors also emphasized the need for employer compliance with OSHA fall protection regulations and effective training in a language and vocabulary workers can understand. To that end, several leading organizations and agencies have mounted campaigns to reach workers with limited literacy or English skills.

Falls chart

Journal of Safety Research // Dong et al.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers information and resources about preventing fatal falls on its Stop Falls web page.

The Campaign to Prevent Falls in Construction, a joint effort by government, labor and management to address the top cause of construction industry fatalities, also offers a range of resources in Spanish and English on its site.


Tagged categories: Fall protection; Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; OSHA; Research; Residential Construction; Residential contractors; Roofing contractors

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