In a previous incarnation I was a sport climber. It was an inevitable result of climbing around on buildings during construction for most of my life.
When I was a builder there was little thought of fall protection and there were lots of deaths and injuries as a result---obviously none killed me but I had my share of falls.
Today there are requirements for fall protection for persons working on buildings whenever a fall might occur to a surface that is more than 6 feet from wherever a worker is working. These regulations generally apply to employees and likely do not cover someone that is not an employee. We used to do things during the construction process that no sport climber would ever think of doing without ropes and harnesses out on a rock face somewhere.
The other day I had my “corkers” (spiked shoes) on in order to inspect a fairly steep wood shake roof. As I got toward the top I noticed a “fall protection bracket” attached to a barge rafter near the ridge. As a sport climber and former employer, the sight of it made me wince.
There are a couple of things to consider. First, the ropes that OSHA requires roofers to use are what are known as “static lines.” What thatis means is, that unlike the ropes that sport climbers use, they DO NOT STRETCH. Why is that important? The forces of the fall on a hanger are considerably higher on a static line than would be generated on a rope that can stretch (dynamic line) to absorb some of the shock of the fall.
These brackets, when properly nailed in place, will likely withstand the kinds of forces generated from a fall from a typical house roof. The key though is that they have to be properly nailed in place. They are designed to be installed straddling the roof peak and the nails must go into the solid wood of the truss or rafter on “both sides.” It is not ideal even then---but will likely be sufficient to arrest a fall.
With this bit of background, I think you can probably see why I winced when I saw the way this bracket was attached in a downward hanging position with only a couple of nails.
Contrary to the falls one sees in movies, where someone catches themselves on a tree root after they slide over the edge of a cliff, I can tell you that it is just not possible to catch yourself from a fall as little as 2 feet. A 200 lb roofer falling 4 feet and coming to a rude stop at the end of his static line can generate close to 2000 lbs of force----far more than that wimpy barge rafter could ever support. In fact the roofer would likely not even notice the bracket rip the bottom of the barge rafter off the house---if not pulling the entire rafter off. Instead it would be the ground that would be the rude part, with the barge rafter in quick pursuit!
The more I think about it, the more I can only conclude this is just another one of the many ways human beings figure out ways to clean the gene pool. I am all for calculated risk---but I can not see any calculation in this installation whatsoever.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board