OSHA/NIOSH Recommendations Following HVAC Death

A heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor was working alone inspecting an air conditioning (AC) unit on a flat roof of a converted warehouse when he fell through an unguarded skylight to the concrete floor below. He died 19 days later from his injuries.

The skylight did not have any protective screen or guarding mechanism at the time of the incident. The contractor was an owner operator and did not have any written policies, procedures, or safety documents.

The scene of the incident was a converted warehouse that was being used as a dance and martial arts studio. The warehouse was constructed in 1972 and was approximately 130 feet long by 60 feet wide. There were six skylights on the roof. The AC equipment was located approximately five feet from the adjacent skylight. In order to encourage more enrollments, the owner of the dance studio decided to expand within the warehouse, adding theme rooms for different age groups.

The construction of the theme rooms was almost complete. The owner of the dance studio asked the victim for an estimate to install additional air ducts from the air conditioning unit on the roof to each room below.

After completing a survey of the electrical panel, the victim climbed up a fixed exterior ladder on the back side of the warehouse to gain access to the flat roof of the building. He then traversed over to one of the AC units to inspect the components to determine whether additional duct work was possible.

Another contractor was working below (inside the warehouse), completing the finishing touches on the theme rooms. He stated that all of a sudden he heard a scream and a crashing noise that came from one of the other theme rooms. He hurried over to the room and found the victim lying on the concrete floor underneath the broken skylight. He then went to the front office to inform the owner and called 911.

Both the owner and contractor stayed with the victim until emergency medical services arrived. The victim was transferred to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries 19 days later.

In order to prevent future incidents, OSHA recommends that HVAC contractors working on flat roofs with skylights should:

  • Perform a daily jobsite hazard analysis to be aware that skylights pose a risk even if adjacent work is of short duration; and
  • Ensure that building owners install skylight safety nets, screens, covers, or guardrails around skylights within six feet of HVAC.

NIOSH has issued a guide for workers preventing falls through skylights and roof and floor openings.