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Roofing Safety: A Three-Step Approach

By Bryan McWhorter
Published: December 9, 2019
Key Takeaways

Roofing is a dangerous job, but with planning, the right equipment, and adequate training, we can keep roofers safe.

Caption: Roofer installing tiles Source: U. J. Alexander / iStock

“Even monkeys fall out of trees,” states an old Chinese proverb. And even experienced roofers fall off buildings.

According to the US Department of Labor, falls are the leading causes of death in the construction industry. Roofing is listed in the top five deadliest jobs in America. Between 2003 and 2013, there were nearly 1,200 fatal falls from roofs. 2017 saw 366 fatal falls to lower levels.

All of these deaths are tragic and all of them are preventable.

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When reviewing potential hazards roofers face, we need to consider, among other things:

  • Weather extremes
  • Slip and trip hazards (tools, supplies on the roof)
  • Roof slope and construction
  • Electricity
  • Structural integrity

(Learn more in Why Are There Still So Many Fatal Workplace Falls? And What Can We Do About It?)

OSHA gives roofing safety topic much attention due to the risks roofers take. They cite roofers for the following violations:

  1. Duty to have fall protection
  2. Ladder safety violations
  3. Fall protection training requirements

Three Steps to Roofing Safety

Let’s review OSHA’s three-step approach to keeping roofers safe: plan, provide, and train.

Plan

We have all heard that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” When working from elevated heights, planning is essential and failure to plan can be catastrophic.

(Learn about 20 Catchy Safety Slogans - And Why They Matter.)

Everything we do in safety begins by assessing hazards, and roofing is no different. We can’t protect people from what we have not identified. A roofing safety checklist should be used as part of planning.

Identify all needed tools, supplies, and equipment (including safety equipment). Pay extra attention to fall hazards from the roof slope, skylights, roof structure integrity, and leading edges. Provide fall protection that is appropriate for the work, such as railings or personal fall arrest systems.

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Provide

Refer to your checklist to confirm that all the required tools, supplies, and equipment are on site.

People working at a level six feet or higher are at risk of serious injury from falling. Employers are responsible for providing fall protection and equipment, such as ladders, scaffolds, and railings. If roofers are wearing personal fall arrest systems, it is a good idea to have them inspect each other’s gear. Ensure workers are effectively tied off and stage roofing supplies in a way that does not create slip or trip hazards.

(Learn about the Keys to Safe Ladder Use.)

Consider the weather and plan to provide for hydration and other recognized safety needs.

Train

All your preparation is useless unless workers are properly trained and competent. No one should be exposed to any work-related hazard without first providing safety training and validating training effectiveness. Working safely isn't innate – it's a skill that we learn and develop.

Safety training should be reinforced with short safety talks before each work session. We are performance-oriented. Roofers are thinking about time constraints and getting the job done – that's what they're paid to do. Safety becomes an afterthought.

(See The Power of Pre-Task Safety Toolbox Talks for related reading.)

Elevated Work Requires Elevated Safety

It is up to business owners to protect workers. Follow this Plan, Provide, and Train approach. Observe employees often while they're working. We are creatures of habit. If you infuse safety as a way of working, it will become second nature.

Remember, roofing currently ranks in the top five for “most dangerous jobs.” It's a deadly occupation, but these deaths are preventable. Increased danger should mean increased awareness and effort.

Roofers can turn this around. They can get off the most dangerous job list.

Employers and safety managers can do their part, too. Houses have roofs, so we'll always need skilled roofers. Let's show our appreciation for them by keeping them safe.

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Written by Bryan McWhorter | Lead Safety Advisor, Author, Writer, Speaker

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Bryan McWhorter is a safety professional with eight years of experience in driving and teaching safety. Bryan gained his knowledge and experience as the safety officer and Senior Trainer for Philips Lighting. Philips is a strong health and well-being company that promotes a safety first culture.

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