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FACEValue: Window washer killed in roof fall

NIOSH’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Reports

Date of incident: June 8, 2005

A window washer was killed after falling 53 feet off the roof of a four-story office building. The victim had been working for a facilities service company for about four months prior to his death. The company had a safety program, but the victim had not attended new hire orientation. On the day of the incident, the victim and a co-worker were washing windows at an office building. The victim’s main responsibility was to ensure proper placement of the rolling roof outrigger used to suspend workers off the flat roof building. He was wearing a full body harness with a retractable lanyard to anchor the outrigger, but neither worker had a separate lifeline attached to an independent roof anchor. Instead, a single nylon rope was tied in the middle to comprise both workers’ descent control line and lifeline. The crew made several descents using the outrigger and 200 pounds in counterweight, despite the manufacturer’s guidelines recommending a counterweight three times as high. While his co-worker was suspended 5 feet below, the victim began to reposition the outrigger when it suddenly began to move toward the roof edge. The outrigger rolled off the roof, dragged the victim and his co-worker to the ground below, and landed on top of the co-worker. Local fire and police departments transported both men to the hospital. The victim was pronounced dead; his co-worker sustained massive injuries but survived.

To prevent future occurrences:

  • Consider eliminating rolling roof outriggers on lower rise buildings with flat roofs and unguarded edges. In this case, safer measures could have been used. The rolling roof outrigger was not essential, as the work could have been done by directly rigging to a rooftop anchor point. Alternately, lightweight telescoping poles can wash windows four to five stories high, eliminating fall hazards altogether.
  • When in use, ensure rolling roof outriggers are properly tied back at all times. In this case, the outrigger was detached from the anchor point to be moved while the victim’s co-worker was suspended. Outriggers should not be disconnected from anchor points until all workers are on the ground and detached from the descent control line.
  • Ensure anchor points for fall protection are independent from descent equipment. Window washers using rolling roof outriggers and descent control devices should be protected by a fall arrest system that provides protection even if other components such as the outrigger, descent control device, anchor points, ropes or body harness fail. The single rope used in this situation was not adequate to protect the workers.

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