Roofing contractors are exposed to many hazards—the same hazards of any demolition job but at much higher heights. Even with the proper safety equipment and protocols, they are consistently at risk of injury or mishaps. A loose shingle, a slippery surface, or a strong gust of wind are some of the hazards that can cause falls and injury. Those falls can be fatal if roofing contractors do not follow safety best practices, and this is especially true for the DIY homeowner attempting to do some work on the roof. So are some roofing safety best practices for DIY jobs and professionals alike.
For those who don’t know, OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration within the U.S. Dept. of Labor. OSHA supplies standards that ensure safe and healthy conditions for all working people. They provide training, education, and outreach to workplaces to keep employees safe and healthy. They also may conduct audits and confirm compliance within the workplace to uphold the standards and guidelines they’ve put in place.
Roofing contractors fall under the more hazardous occupations when it comes to safety. In fact, according to OSHA, falls are the leading cause of death within the construction industry. Roofers accounted for 34% of all fatal falls in the industry between 2003 and 2013. Thus the reason OSHA has extensive safety guidelines for roofers as well as the inception of their Fall Prevention Campaign.
These fatal falls are 100% preventable with the use of proper safety equipment and following safety best practices. OSHA’s Fall Prevention Campaign has been working with workers and employers within the construction industry for the last eight years, raising awareness about hazards that can lead to falls. They provide education on how to prevent falls from roofs, ladders, scaffolding, and any other high locations on the job-site.
Plan, Provide, and Train
The three principals of the Fall Prevention Campaign are plan, provide, and train. They believe that planning ahead can ensure proper safety procedures are already in place before the project even begins. Also, employers must provide the proper equipment for fall protection as well as the proper tools and other materials. Lastly, all employees must be trained on proper set-up and use of all equipment. There also must be training on how to spot hazards and safely remove or change them to be safe. Remember these three steps:
- Plan ahead
- Provide the proper equipment
- Train everyone
Common Dangers on a Rooftop
There are numerous hazards that roofers face daily, including ladders, slippery roofs, and power tools. Let’s go over some of the most common dangers and what risks to watch for.
Unstable Ladder or Scaffolding
When a job does not have inside roof access, roofers will have to use ladders or scaffolding to reach the roof. If a ladder is not secured properly or scaffolding is not assembled correctly, it can lead to falls with severe injury or even death. Even if a ladder is secured, losing footing or missing a step can be just as hazardous, so always climb up or down with caution.
Although shingles may look and feel like they have a grippy surface, that’s not necessarily the case. Some rain, ice, snow, or even moisture from the humidity can make their surfaces extremely slippery. A steep roof that has been rained on becomes especially hazardous.
Roofers face some pretty extreme temperatures—mainly heat—when they are up there working on the roof. There’s generally not a lot of shade or cover on the roof, so on extra hot days, it can get quite toasty. Heat can make people dizzy and lightheaded if they are not adequately hydrated, which can be incredibly dangerous for a worker at those heights.
During demolition, a lot of nails and shingles and other pieces of debris can come loose and become a hazard if not properly cleaned off. Even a small nail or screw, when stepped on, can cause someone to slip and fall. Debris can also be present after a storm, and during roof repair, make sure any loose debris is cleared before the work starts.
Trees and Power Lines
Tree branches and especially power lines, can be low hanging over a roof. Trees can also hide power lines, so be aware of those areas to avoid any unfortunate run-ins.
Exposed Vents or Ducts
The roof will likely have a few intake or exhaust vents that help circulate air in the attic. These can be trip hazards, or if removed for ease of installation, could be an open area to step through. These should be thoroughly marked for visibility.
Misuse of Power Tools
Roofers use several tools to demo and re-roof. They use roofing nail guns, pry bars, staple guns, and other tools to remove and install the shingles. The air compressor can be dangerous if they don’t use it properly. Any handheld tools are probably not as dangerous, but one slip and that tool can slide and fall off the edge of the roof.
Roofing Safety Tips & Best Practices
Now that we’ve diagnosed some of the hazards to look out for in the work area—how can your crew ensure safety and prevention?
- Always wear a roofers harness when working up on the roof.
- The ladder should always extend 3 feet above the edge of the roof.
- Secure the ladder in place with a lock before stepping foot on it.
- Wear proper soft-soled footwear that creates traction and helps prevent slips and falls.
- Block off the area where debris may, or will be falling.
- Clear any existing debris from the area or on the roof.
- Clearly mark any vents, ducts, or skylights with highly visible tape or tarps to avoid tripping or falling through.
- Mind the weather. Extremely hot or extremely cold days are not only dangerous for workers but can affect how the shingles and roofing materials are installed.
- Look for and mark any low hanging power lines.
- Never use a metal ladder near power lines!
- Only use ladders for their intended use. i.e., don’t fold a step ladder and use it as a single.
- Also, never prop a ladder up on something to reach the right height. Get a higher ladder!
- Keep nail guns pointed down at all times.
- Never shoot a nail from the gun until the end is firmly placed down on the roof surface.
- Always disconnect the nail gun from the air pressure supply when you are finished or need to adjust the gun at any point.
- Use a pulley system to bring large materials up to the roof, or only bring what you can carry safely with you.
- Know your materials. Some roofing manufacturers install in different ways—it’s not always one-size-fits-all.
- Stay aware of your surroundings and the people near you. Watch out for each other.
- Test your safety harness before use. Don’t climb until it’s safely secured.
The list could go on and on, but you get the gist. By following best practices laid out by OSHA and upholding the safety values within your team is the best way to prevent accidents on the job site. Proper education and training can save lives. If you’re looking to hire us and you’d like to know more about how we keep a safe working environment at First American Roofing, simply give us a call at (608) 247-5844.