There’s no doubt that the construction industry is full of hazards, and roof work especially so. Workers in the roofing industry are three times more likely to experience a work-related fatality than other construction workers, according to CPWR data. Because of this, roof safety must be top priority for roofing contractors and their workers.
This guide to safety management for roofing contractors explains the main hazards to roof workers and how to control them to reduce accidents and injuries during roofing projects.
Common hazards for roofing workers
The most obvious risk comes from falls, but within that broad category there are many factors that may cause a worker to fall from a height while working on a roof. These include:
- Unprotected edges and low parapets: Whether workers lose their footing or just lose track of their position on the roof, a small wall might not be enough to stop them from falling off the edge.
- Skylights and roof holes: Workers can fall through fragile roofing or roof lights and other openings in the work area which are not always immediately obvious.
- Debris: Leaves, branches, tools, and construction equipment are all tripping or slipping hazards.
- Weather: Roofing construction exposes workers to extreme weather conditions. Extreme heat may lead to dehydration and dizziness, while the cold may cause numbness and reduced mobility in limbs. Additionally, rain, snow, and ice all increase the risk of slipping, particularly with steeper pitches.
- Ladders: Ladders that are not positioned or secured properly present a fall risk, as does improper use.
Roofing contractors should ensure workers take special precautions when working near overhead power lines, HVAC equipment or solar panels to prevent electrical injuries. Asbestos, lead and other roofing materials also present a risk of harmful chemical exposure.
Using the right safety equipment and following industry standards may not ensure total safety, but it certainly makes roofing projects less risky for all involved.
Roof safety equipment
Ladders are an essential piece of equipment on all kinds of roofing work, but hurried workers may not take the time to set them up and secure them correctly.
Portable ladders should be placed on a level surface, away from high traffic. Follow the 4-to-1 rule (for every 4 feet the ladder extends vertically, move the footing 1 foot away from the facade). Leave an extra 3 feet above the roof line if possible. Maintain three-point contact when climbing up or down and don’t carry tools while climbing. These are simple rules to follow, but over time workers may get complacent or simply forget best practice for such a routine action.
For larger construction projects you will need to construct scaffolding with a guardrail that can support at least 200 pounds of force.
Where a guardrail can’t be fitted or extra fall protection is deemed necessary, workers can be fitted with a personal fall arrest system involving a roof anchor point and a properly fitting safety harness. Other personal protection equipment (PPE) such as eye protection, hearing protection, and gloves should be worn when working with certain tools.
All roof safety equipment should be regularly tested and maintained to ensure it is functioning correctly—or will do when it is needed.
Training and safety procedures
Having the right equipment will only go so far towards preventing roof accidents; workers must also know how to use it correctly and how to identify predictable hazards. Robust training and refresher courses are essential. Allowing someone to work on a roof without proper training can put everyone involved at risk.
Training should also cover the procedures to follow if a fall or other accident does occur. This could involve administering first aid, securing dangerous equipment or rescuing a worker who has become suspended.
Keeping up with who’s trained on what can be tricky. The SafetyTek Employee Training Matrix makes it easy to oversee and manage training requirements for the whole team.
Before commencing work on a rooftop each day, workers should be briefed on potential hazards present, working conditions, and any other roof safety considerations.
Mark out control zones on flat roofs with a warning line a safe distance from unguarded edges. It may also be necessary to draw attention to skylights and other weak areas on the roof that should be avoided. As an extra precaution, safety netting can be added below these areas.
A safety zone should also be marked out on the ground in the area where roof work is in progress. This protects workers and members of the public from injury due to falling debris or construction gear.
Don’t forget to assess weather conditions throughout the working day and respond appropriately. If conditions worsen, it might be appropriate to warn workers of the increased risk or halt the project altogether until it’s safe to resume.
The need to finish a roofing project on time should never be prioritized above worker safety.
Keep safe up there
Businesses cannot afford to compromise on safety management for roofing contractors. In an already high-risk industry, failing to implement the correct training, procedures and safety equipment is simply opening up the way for accidents and even fatalities.
Don’t be tempted to overlook the importance of regular training and maintenance—even for the most basic of procedures and equipment. When workers—not just supervisors—are aware of potential risk factors, roofing projects become much safer.