Roofs and falls don’t have to go together. Safety planning and the right fall protection equipment can help roofing contractors beat the odds.
Residential roofing crews have a tough job. They're expected to perform their work quickly, often in uncomfortable weather, and they haul materials and tools up and down ladders all day, not to mention navigating the slopes and ridges of many different styles of roofs and the sometimes-slippery wood decking that lies beneath a new roof or re-roof project.
All of this can create some serious safety hazards, which employers must do their best to manage.
Falls account for one third of all construction fatalities, and they’re the biggest threat to workers in the residential roofing business (limited here to single-family homes). Yet in 2016, the mostly frequently violated OSHA standard was the one that stipulates construction employers must provide fall protection systems.
In a 2014 study of residential roofing fatalities, in almost all the cases the researchers examined they found a lack of adherence to safety standards, a lack of planning and a lack of employee training.
To protect workers from falls, employers should:
- Provide fall protection to anyone working at 6 feet or higher. For low-slope roofs, this means putting up guardrails, using personal arrest systems, installing safety nets and fixing a warning line, which must be accompanied by a safety monitoring system when used without other protection methods. For steep slopes with one or more unprotected sides, employers must use guardrail systems with toeboards or safety net systems or provide personal fall arrest protection.
- Train workers on how to use fall protection equipment and safely navigate scaffolds in accordance with OSHA guidelines. If a worker doesn’t speak English, it’s up to you to provide training in a language the worker understands, according to OSHA.
- Keep shingles and other roofing material in neat piles or stacks so they don't create a trip hazard. To that end, don't overload the roof with material. Bring up tools and material as they're needed.
- Make sure all workers on the roof wear boots with a soft sole to gain the best traction — and that everyone stays on the ground if the roof is slippery after a rain or snowfall.
- Check for damage to the roof before sending up a full crew. Not doing so puts workers at risk of falling through.
- Make sure ladders rest on even surfaces. If there is no stable ground, tie the top and bottom of the ladder off to the building.
Managing other hazards
Falls aren’t the only threat roofers face. These tips will help prevent injuries and illnesses stemming from other hazards.
- Keep workers off the roof in high winds. If that's not possible, train them on how to carry items like large pieces of sheathing so they don't take flight — either the sheathing or the worker.
- Workers should take care near power lines. Electricity can arc several feet from a live source, so they should use a wooden ladder and try not to get too close with metal flashing. If necessary, call the power company and have them insulate the lines.
- Avoid sending workers up if high heat or extreme cold poses a physical danger. If the weather is hot but not severe enough to keep workers grounded, they should wear light-colored clothing and headwear to protect them from the sun.
Learn more from OSHA’s publication “Protecting Roof Workers.”