Everyday Roof Safety

Residential construction employers generally must ensure that employees working higher than 6 feet above lower levels use guardrails, safety nets, or a PFAS, which may consist of a full body harness, a deceleration device, a lanyard, and an anchor point. Photo: CertainTeed and Rutter Roofing & Exteriors

As an experienced contractor with a few decades of experience in the building industry, I still get excited when I’m on someone’s roof, addressing problems and providing solutions. Most roofing installers earn a good salary (the national average is $20.30 per hour); however, in my opinion that wage does not fully compensate them for the element of risk that comes with being so high off the ground. Roofing contractors have the fifth-highest work-related death rate in construction — 29.9 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, about twice the average for all construction of 15.2. About 50 roofing contractors are killed on the job each year, and falls account for three-fourths of those deaths.

As dangerous as roofing can be, there are still too many people who don’t put modern roofing safety protocols into practice on a regular basis. There are many steep roof safety devices available to roofing contractors, such as ropes, harnesses, perimeter rails and catchers, cleats, roof jacks, and other items — many of which some installers rarely use.

There’s no safe way to fall off a roof, so roofers owe it to themselves and family and coworkers who depend on them to do everything they can to prevent life-altering falls from occurring in the first place. That involves learning as much as possible about roofing safety equipment and its use, government safety regulations for roofers (especially those issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA), and trade association safety recommendations.

Here’s a high-level summary of safety regulations and best practices that all roofers should integrate into their work habits.

Following Federal Safety Protocols

OSHA enforces a federally mandated safety program for all roofing contractors. This includes regular training and employers providing roofers OSHA-approved fall protection equipment while working 6 feet or more above a lower level. Even experienced roofers deal with unpredictable fall hazards caused by uneven sheathing, openings in the roof deck for skylights or hatches, loose roofing materials, and slick surfaces, so employers must evaluate the hazards and take measures to reduce the risk of falls.

Not knowing the law excuses no one, and an inspection which reveals no safety program in effect, ignorance of the regulations or, even worse, blatant disregard for the regulations, can cost a contractor anywhere from hundreds to several thousands of dollars. Taking appropriate fall protection measures reduces risks, saves lives, and from an employer standpoint, is much less costly than waiting for a terrible accident to happen.

There are fall protection systems available that can provide roofers the flexibility they need during demolition and roof installation. A personal fall arrest system (PFAS) is a great tool available to roofers during roof replacement jobs, but must be installed precisely to the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid potential accidents. Residential construction employers generally must ensure that employees working higher than 6 feet above lower levels use guardrails, safety nets, or a PFAS, which may consist of a full body harness, a deceleration device, a lanyard, and an anchor point.

Learn the federal, state, and local worker safety requirements that apply to the work that you do. These requirements exist to protect roofing contractors and companies. Learning and applying these regulations is one of the most important aspects of being a roofing professional.

Basic Roof Safety Tips

Here are some things that all roofing contractors should observe while working, whether in a residential or commercial setting.

· Tie-off: Wear a safety harness that is securely tied off to a fall-resistant device.

· Avoid slippery roofs: When the roof is slippery from rain, snow, frost or dew, it’s best to wait until the roof surface is dry to begin work.

· Keep it clean: Make sure someone keeps the roof clean by frequently sweeping up sawdust, wood, shingle particles, and other kinds of dirt. Many roofers will also use a leaf-blower to clean the deck of shingle granules and debris.

· Wear rubber-soled shoes or boots: Rubber-soled boots typically provide better traction than leather-soled boots. Some crepe-soled boots also provide good traction. Whatever shoes or boots you decide to wear, make sure they’re in good condition. Badly worn shoes of any type can be a real safety problem.

· Secure openings: Cover and secure all skylights and openings, or install guardrails to keep workers from falling through.

· Dealing with wet conditions: Dew, frost, and rain all pose safety and liability problems. In the case of dew and frost, early mornings present increased risks for workers walking on a roof. Underlayment can be slippery without appearing so to the untrained eye. In all wet weather conditions, be sure to protect shingle bundles from getting wet. Wet bundles are very difficult to handle. They may present safety problems and almost certainly will reduce productivity. Keep bundles under cover and off of the ground. Never take safety shortcuts in this situation.

· Keep the skid-resistant side of panels facing out: Some Oriented Strand Board (OSB) panels are textured or splatter-coated on one side to increase traction on the panel surface. When installing OSB panels on the roof, make sure the skid-resistant side is up.

· Install shingle underlayment: Cover the deck with underlayment as soon as possible to minimize its exposure to the weather. Underlayment tends to make the roof less slippery when properly installed. Be aware that underlayment can tear away from fasteners, especially on steeper pitches. Be sure to install enough fasteners to secure the underlayment to the deck.

· Install temporary wood cleats for toeholds: Nail two-by-four wood cleats or adjustable roof jacks to the roof deck to provide temporary toeholds. Remove the cleats or roof jacks as the roofing is installed.

· Constantly inspect the roof for tripping hazards: Tools, electric cords, and other loose items can all pose hazards and should be removed from the roof.

Ladder Safety

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ladders account for nearly 20 percent of fall injuries among the general public. Among construction workers, ladders are the cause of 81 percent of fall injuries. It’s important to take extreme precaution when using ladders.

Here are some important ladder safety tips:

· Tie-off: A ladder used for extended period should be tied off at the bottom rung to a stake driven into the ground (or stack two shingle bundles on the ground against the base of the ladder) and also tied off near the top to an eye bolt screwed into the fascia.

· Ladder rating: Ladders are rated by how much weight they can safely bear. Consider using the highest-available rating of 1A or 300 pounds.

· Material: When it comes to safety, the best material for a ladder is fiberglass. Although wood is cheaper and aluminum is easier to handle, wood also deteriorates when used outdoors, and aluminum is dangerous when used around electric circuits. Some businesses and industrial plants will not allow you to use aluminum ladders and some insist on the use of fiberglass ladders only.

· Power lines: Even ladders made of wood or fiberglass should not be used in the vicinity of power lines or other electrical hazards.

· Positioning: Ladders should extend above the eaves by 3 to 3 1/2 feet and sit on a firm level base. Leveling can be attained by digging or by use of adjustable leg levelers. Firmness can be attained by use of a two-foot square piece of 3/4-inch plywood under each leg.

· Ladder angle: To be at a proper angle, the distance of the foot of the ladder from the wall supporting it should be one quarter of the height of the wall (1 foot for every 4 feet of vertical rise).

· Avoid over-reaching: Don’t over-reach to either side while on a ladder. A good rule is to keep your belt buckle between the rails.

· Not a plank: Do not use the ladder or even a section of a ladder as a plank or to provide stiffness to a wooden plank. Besides the danger of failure, the stresses set up during this usage loosen the ladder’s connecting points.

· Step ladders: Step ladders are intended for use fully opened — not closed and leaning against a wall. The highest step for standing on is 2 feet below the top.

· Inspection: A ladder should be inspected every time it is set up for use. Check the ladder from bottom to top for any visible defects or wear, and ensure that it’s correctly and securely anchored and properly positioned.

In your efforts to prevent falls, be sure to always implement proper safety procedures and use common sense. Safety programs and regulations can’t predict the conditions or layout of every roof on which you may have to work. Adapt to protect yourself and your co-workers.

About the author: Jay Butch joined CertainTeed Roofing in 1998 and is responsible for all contractor programs and marketing. By developing the ShingleMaster credential, an enhanced SureStart PLUS warranty and Roofers’ Rewards, he strengthened CertainTeed’s Contractor’s EDGE program. He adds valuable insight from his extensive interactions with contractors across the country. Prior to joining CertainTeed, he spent 19 years at a major insurance company and also operated a remodeling contractor business. Butch holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Temple University and an MBA from DeSales University.

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