Roofing contractors are doing some dangerous work. According to OSHA, 34% of all fall related-deaths are falls from a roof. And while doing any kind of contracting work has its fair share of dangers, roofers need to be particularly careful because of the heights they’re working at. There are some common roofing safety tips that apply everywhere, but as we’ll see, there are some that are geared toward areas that have seasonal changes, like Michigan and Northern Ohio.
Avoid Bad Weather
This one is really a basic safety tip, but unfortunately it can conflict with the needs of your customer and their expected deadlines. In Michigan and Northern Ohio, winter can bring some elements that are best to avoid, like rain, wind, snow, and especially ice. If you have a customer that needs an ice dam removed, special caution should be exercised. And if your roofing job is not particularly seasonal, it’s best to do everything you can to encourage customers to book your services in warmer weather.
Offer summer discounts or even discounts for up-front payment in the winter to lock in a summer job. Just focusing the majority of your workload in warmer seasons can go a long way toward avoiding inclement weather…especially the slippery kind. Wind is another overlooked source of slips and falls. Any wind speed higher than 23 mph is not the time to work, and certain types of work should even be discontinued if the wind speed surpasses 17 mph.
Dress for the Occasion
This phrase is usually associated with making sure you have the right shoes and a tie. But in this case, dressing accordingly means dressing up for safety’s sake. You want to wear clothing that is loose, but not too loose, as baggy clothing can lead to snags, rips, and trips. Shoes that give you a good grip are absolutely indispensable. If your work boots are worn down, it can be tempting to push them the extra mile—but if you’re a few dozen feet up in the air on a slanted surface, you won’t regret throwing out your old kicks more often.
Work gloves are another best practice, as are tactical or cargo pants (lots of pockets). You might be surprised to learn that wearing darker clothing, even black, is best in warmer weather. That’s because darker colors are actually better at reducing the radiative heat load at your skin level…something scientists learned from goats (but that’s another story). The opposite is true in winter…lighter clothing, especially white, helps keep heat near the skin. While overheating and dehydration doesn’t seem like an immediate concern, it can become an acute safety issue if a contractor gets disoriented.
Keep it Clean…and Organized
This isn’t about your conversation (expletives do get tossed around on the job) but about your actual workspace. You do not want to slip on trash, tiles, or loose nails.
However you do it, creating a uniform policy for disposing of old tiles and other roofing materials can make sure they don’t accumulate where you’re working or pose a danger on the ground. Speaking of the ground, you will also want to make sure your work zone is blocked off from any pedestrian foot traffic; you don’t want anybody to get hit in the head with a flying tile. Power lines, skylights, and damaged parts of the structure should also be noted and avoided.
There are also OSHA-approved slip-resistant roofing walkways and scaffolding that can be set up for a job and then removed. Walkways and scaffolding can help make your work zone organized by limiting foot traffic to designated areas.
Step Your Ladder Game Up
The easiest way to get up on a roof is with a ladder…and it’s also the easiest way to fall off one. Ladders that are rickety, wobbly, missing rungs, or just past their prime should not be used. Did you know that more than 164,000 emergency room visits and as many as 300 deaths per year are caused by ladder falls, and that most of these deaths involve falling from less than ten feet?
That said, even shorter ladders for lower-height jobs require an investment. Make sure your ladders are secure and on a stable surface. If necessary, you can also weigh them down with sandbags. Make sure the ladder you’re using has the right load capacity, because too much weight can easily lead to a fall. And while climbing up, make sure you always have 3 points of contact—like hand, hand, foot, or foot, foot, hand. Moving two quickly can result in only two points at a time, which in turn can make it easier to slip and fall.
Many roofing contractors are resistant to the idea of wearing a helmet. Helmets can make your head feel hot, and they don’t look cool, do they. While that latter point may or may not be true, they certainly look cooler than a hospital gown (especially because those gowns show your cheeks).
OSHA does require helmets in work zones where there is a significant danger of struck-by-object injuries. While this may not always be the case when it comes to roofing, helmets are a good company policy to implement. And for those contractors on the ground, there certainly is a need for hard hats. A good quality helmet will have good ventilation for those hot days as well.
A harness is another piece of personal protective equipment that can prevent a disastrous fall. While these pieces of PPE may seem cumbersome to wear and a nuisance to put on and take off, if your company policy dictates wearing them (and even provides them) you’ll get less pushback.
Invest in a Fall Protection System
Fall protection systems are meant to prevent falls, but also to mitigate any damage if a fall is inevitable. The basic types of fall protection systems are guardrails, fall restriction systems, travel restraint systems, and fall arresting systems.
Guardrails are effective because they simply put a barrier between the roofing contractors and the edge of the roof. A fall restriction system works by combining a work positioning system (like a bosun’s chair or swing stage) and some fall restricting equipment (like lineman pole climbing belts). A travel restraint system is similar but usually geared toward preventing you from getting close to a fall in the first place—using things like a lanyard, lifeline, and a safety harness or belt.
And lastly, a fall arresting system prevents one from hitting the ground after they’ve already started falling…sort of like last minute bungee jumping (not exactly, but close enough). Fall arresting systems need to be paired with a rescue plan for assisting a dangling contractor. And if a fall occurs, and the system successfully prevents contact, it should be inspected before reusing again.
And Don’t Forget Common Sense
So many of the roofing safety tips here involve getting ready before the job. Investing in a quality ladder, PPE, and scaffolding can go a long way toward preventing a slip or fall, or minimizing damage if one occurs.
For roofing contractors in Northern Ohio and Michigan, weather is also a concern to consider. Avoiding distractions like alcohol, cigarettes, and cell phones can also keep the work zone safe and accident free. But above all, the foundations of good roofing safety is common sense. While this doesn’t come naturally to everyone, it’s easy to implement with the right training and the right company policies.
Make sure everyone on your team is on the same page with best roofing practices for safety. For safety concerns that can’t be anticipated, this underlying common sense can go a long way.