Rooftop work can be dangerous if you’re not careful. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry accounted for nearly half of fatal falls in the U.S. in 2020. However, it is possible to minimize the risk of injury by proactively identifying common roof safety hazards, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensuring the appropriate safety systems are in place at all times.
This guide covers some of the most common rooftop safety hazards contractors should be aware of and the different types of PPE that help counteract them. Our experienced roofing professionals also share their top 10 tips for working on roofs safely.
Common Rooftop Safety Hazards
The first step to reducing workplace injury risk is identifying all potential health and safety threats. Roofing contractors must stay aware of the following rooftop safety hazards and be vigilant in taking steps to mitigate them.
Hazard #1: Fall Hazards
Working at height presents an inherent fall hazard, especially if the roof is steeply sloped. Before beginning work, ensure the roof is free of removable threats, including debris such as tree limbs or loose materials. Use ladders properly and employ guardrails and fall restraint equipment when working at heights 6 feet or greater.
Hazard #2: Power Tools
Power tools can cause critical injury if misused, especially at heights. To avoid danger, thoroughly train your crew in all tools and equipment they need to use on the job. Be sure to equip the tool’s appropriate shields, guards and attachments from the original manufacturer, and always ensure a device is in top working order before using it — preferably before the workday begins.
Hazard #3: Electricity
While the mining industry had the highest rate of fatal electrical injuries in 2020, the construction industry was in second place and not far behind. Power lines and electrical equipment can cause shock, burns and death. It’s best to conduct an electrical safety check before a project to mitigate the risk of life-altering electrical injuries.
Hazard #4: Substances
Roofing professionals frequently come into contact with hazardous substances such as asbestos, lead and silica. Exposure to various gases, vapors and fumes is also common. Most exposure occurs through inhalation, so your crewmembers should wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) so they can breathe safely.
Hazard #5: Temperature
Exposure to extreme temperatures also presents health and safety hazards for outdoor contractors. Excessive heat can cause heatstroke, while freezing temperatures can lead to frostbite. Roofing professionals should monitor weather conditions and prepare appropriately before undertaking work.
Roof Safety Signs
Safety on the job, especially in high-risk areas such as roofing, hinges on understanding and adhering to critical safety protocols. One of the primary tools to ensure this understanding is the use of safety signs, as classified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These signs serve as visual reminders and indicators of potential dangers, allowing workers to approach their tasks with the necessary caution and awareness.
- Danger Signs: These signs are reserved for the most severe hazards, signaling imminent danger. They indicate conditions or situations where there is an immediate risk of severe injury or even death if not avoided. In the context of roofing, these signs might highlight areas where there’s a risk of falling or places where dangerous machinery is in operation. Workers should completely avoid or exercise extreme caution in areas marked with these signs unless they have been specifically trained to handle such risks.
- Warning Signs: Slightly less severe than danger signs, warning signs still denote significant risk. They are used to point out hazards that have the potential to cause serious injury or death. However, while general access to these areas may be restricted, authorized personnel or those with specific training can enter, provided they take the necessary safety precautions. For instance, an area on a roof that requires specific equipment or knowledge to navigate safely might be marked with a warning sign. This serves as a clear message to workers: approach with caution and only if you are qualified.
- Caution Signs: Caution signs are employed for less immediate or less severe risks but are nonetheless important. They indicate potential hazards that may not pose an immediate threat to safety but can still cause harm if not heeded. In roofing, these signs could signify areas with uneven surfaces, slippery spots, or places where one might find overhead obstructions. Roofers should always be attentive to these signs and implement the suggested safety measures or precautions.
For those in the roofing profession, understanding the distinctions between these sign categories is crucial. Safety signs, when used correctly, can prevent accidents, guide workers in dangerous situations, and ensure a safer working environment for all.
The Common Types of PPE for Roofers
It’s an employer’s responsibility to protect workers from workplace hazards. It’s vital that construction employers take the initiative to keep their contractors safe, as many workplace injuries within the construction industry are severe or fatal. For roofing contractors, workplace hazards include falls, power tools, electricity, hazardous substances, and extreme temperatures.
If engineering or administrative controls cannot eliminate these risks, employers must provide the appropriate PPE. Common types of PPE for roofers include the following:
- Hard hats: These are essential to protect workers from falling objects or accidental head contact with hard or sharp objects. Modern hard hats are lightweight, adjustable, and designed to absorb shocks, providing both comfort and safety.
- Gloves: Depending on the type of work being conducted, gloves can be essential. They can protect hands from abrasions, cuts, chemicals, and extreme temperatures. Specialized gloves may be used for handling hot materials, sharp objects, or chemicals.
- Safety glasses: Safety glasses shield the eyes from flying debris, dust, or any small particles that might be encountered during roofing tasks. They often come with side shields and are made from impact-resistant materials.
- Visors: Full-face visors provide a shield that covers the entire face, protecting against splashes, larger debris, or exposure to harmful substances. They are particularly useful when working with chemicals or when there’s a risk of splashing.
- Earplugs or Earmuffs: Roofing can involve the use of loud machinery. Ear protection is essential to prevent long-term hearing damage. Earplugs are inserted into the ear canal, while earmuffs cover the entire ear. The choice between the two often comes down to personal preference and the specific noise levels encountered.
- Guardrails: While not wearable PPE, guardrails are a vital safety feature for roof work. They create a barrier to prevent workers from accidentally stepping or falling off the edges of roofs.
- Fall restraint equipment: This includes harnesses, lanyards, and anchor points. Together, they ensure that if a worker slips or trips, they won’t fall off the roof. The system is designed to arrest a fall quickly, minimizing potential injury.
- Respiratory face masks/respirators: These are essential when workers are exposed to dust, fumes, vapors, or any harmful airborne particles. Depending on the level of protection needed, there are different types of masks and respirators available, ranging from disposable masks to more sophisticated devices with filters.
- Nonslip footwear: Roof surfaces can be uneven, slippery, and treacherous. Nonslip footwear, often with reinforced toes, provides better traction and reduces the risk of slips, trips, and falls. Additionally, they can protect the feet from falling objects or accidental impacts.
Top 10 Tips for Staying Safe During a Roofing Project
Once you’ve identified potential hazards and provided your crew with the appropriate PPE, it’s time to begin the roofing project. The following roof safety guidelines and tips offer crucial insight into how to work on a roof safely.
1. Prepare Your Crew Before the Job
Start the workday by reviewing your roof work safety checklist to prepare your crew and the work site. Begin by taping off the area and gathering your PPE and supplies. Taping off the site ensures neighbors and passersby are aware there is a crew working at height nearby. Finally, double-check that your crew has the appropriate attire and PPE before beginning.
2. Closely Monitor Weather Conditions
You already know it’s important to account for excessive heat and icy or snowy conditions. However, it’s also best to avoid working on a roof in the rain or humidity, as slippery surfaces pose a slip-and-fall hazard.
Check your local weather app or news station before leaving home and alert your team to cancellations accordingly.
3. Ensure Ladder Stability Measures Are in Place
Inspect your ladder for defects before setting it up. If it’s in excellent condition, place the ladder on level ground and use a ladder stabilizer for reinforcement. Face the ladder when you use it and maintain three points of body contact with it at all times.
Remember that your ladder must be 1 foot away from the building for every 4 feet of elevation. The ladder’s top should extend no more than 3 feet above the roof’s edge.
4. Always Wear the Correct PPE
PPE could save a life, and it should always be worn when using tools and equipment. For example, wear hearing and eye protection when using loud machinery like nail guns, generators and air compressors. Likewise, be sure to don gloves, respirators and eye protection if you’re dealing with hazardous substances.
5. Be Cautious of Ropes, Wiring and Cords
A warning line system consisting of ropes, wires, chains and supporting stanchions warns workers when they are approaching an unguarded roof edge. Watch your footing when navigating roofs, as a warning line system can pose a trip hazard if ignored.
6. Use Guardrails to Prevent Falls
Use a guardrail if you work more than 10 feet above the ground or a lower level. Guardrails are physical barriers that provide a visual warning to contractors as they approach a roof’s edge and are a crucial piece of safety equipment for projects at high heights.
7. Use Safety Harnesses
Use a personal fall arrest system (PFAS) if working at heights of 6 feet or more. These systems employ anchors, harnesses and deceleration devices to arrest a fall.
8. Watch Your Footing
Watch your footing and take extra care when navigating slate or tile roofs. If possible, avoid working on roofs immediately after rainfall. Be cautious of warning line systems and loose tools and equipment. Never navigate a roof while looking at or using your cellphone or other device.
9. Use Proper Signage in Your Work Area
Color-coded safety signs prevent injury by warning contractors of hazards and dangerous conditions. For example, red, black or white danger signs indicate conditions or risks that could cause injury or death. Always use the appropriate safety signs to communicate potentially hazardous conditions to your employees.
10. Clear Dirt and Debris From Project Spaces
Keep your workspace as clear of tools, equipment, dirt and debris as possible to prevent trip-and-fall hazards. Never toss debris over the roof’s edge without first checking the area below and warning your teammates.
Become a Certified RoofAid USA Franchise Today
It is possible to maintain your crew’s safety while working at heights, so long as you take care to ensure the appropriate roofing safety systems are in place. Keep the above tips in mind when preparing your crew for a roofing project, and always ensure you have the correct PPE on hand.
If you’re ready to start a turnkey roofing installation and repair business, turn to RoofAid USA. We provide ongoing instruction and support through our comprehensive training program and continuing education courses. We’ll help you keep your team safe and productive, ensuring your roofing business is compliant, profitable and sustainable in the long term.
Contact us to speak with a team leader and discuss launching your roofing business. In the meantime, be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on best practices and innovations in the industry.