George Beam, 43, of Biddeford was on the roof of the mall at about 1:30 p.m. to repair the heating, ventilation and cooling system, authorities said.

He fell through a Plexiglas skylight and landed on a concrete floor more than 20 feet below, sustaining serious injuries. He was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston where he remained in critical condition Thursday. A Fire Department official said Beam apparently mistook the skylight for a snowdrift.

Beam was working for Atlantic Comfort Systems of Biddeford. He is licensed as a propane and natural gas technician with the Maine Fuel Board, and authorized to service HVAC systems.

Karen Billups, assistant area director for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the investigation could take up to two weeks to complete.

Billups said anyone on a roof doing maintenance or repairs must exercise safety precautions. 

Anyone on a roof shoveling snow or working on a roof should be protected from falling, such as by using a rope and harness, she said. Other methods include safety railings and bucket lifts.

According to OSHA regulations governing safety while working around skylights, “every skylight floor opening and hole shall be guarded by a standard skylight screen or a fixed standard railing on all exposed sides.” Those regulations also require skylight screens rated to hold 200 pounds of weight, standing perpendicularly, and must be designed not to fall downward if the window below it breaks.

“Everybody on the roof is required to have fall protection,” Billups said.

“We are telling all of the investigators to look for people on roofs shoveling snow because they should be protected,” she said. “We are trying to do as much outreach as possible.”

Skylights and other possible roof hazards must be screened off or the contractor’s workers or building maintenance crews must have special training, Billups said.

Fire Chief Frank Roma, who was at the scene of Wednesday’s fall, viewed the roof from a firetruck’s bucket after the accident.

He said a “large amount” of snow was on the mall roof, including some areas where snow had drifted against structures.

“It was very easy to see how the individual could have not realized that he was stepping onto a skylight,” Roma said. “In fact, the skylight that he did step on was still partially covered. It was very apparent that he did not have any inclination that he was stepping onto a skylight.”

Roma said Beam had no fall protection.

Mark Stambach, a city code enforcement officer and building inspector, said the city’s building codes do not require a skylight to be permanently marked or cordoned off.

For the installation of new skylights, there is a requirement of the types of materials allowed; those are safety glass, tempered glass, laminated glass, heat-strength glass, wired glass or approved rigid plastics, he said.

OSHA’s website includes these weather-related precautions:

“Employers must evaluate snow removal tasks for hazards and plan how to do the work safely. Workers should be aware of the potential for unexpected hazards due to the weather conditions, for example, layers of ice can form as the environmental temperature drops, making surfaces even more slippery. A surface that is weighed down by snow must be inspected by a competent person to determine if it is structurally safe for workers to access it, because it may be at risk of collapsing. Snow-covered rooftops can hide hazards such as skylights that workers can fall through. Electrical hazards may also exist from overhead power lines or snow removal equipment.

“Employers can protect workers from these hazardous work conditions, for example, by using snow removal methods that do not involve workers going on roofs, when and where possible. Employers should determine the right type of equipment (ladders, aerial lifts, etc.) and personal protective equipment (personal fall arrest systems, non-slip safety boots, etc.) for the job and ensure that workers are trained on how to properly use them.”

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