Roofing safety

Roofing safety is not a subject to treated lightly so please don't ignore this page and flip over to something more interesting, because I'll give you the drum:

There should be nothing more interesting to you than the safety of yourself, your mates and other people.

Table of contents for this page.
Do this before starting work on a roof. | Roofing safety, a list of don'ts. | Always use and wear safety equipment. | A few cautionary tales. |

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Do this before starting work on a roof.

I am not going to go into the specific safety regulations of any particular area, it is every roofers responsibility to read and understand the roofing codes in his or her area.

What I am offering here are the sort of things that you should be thinking about when working at a height of 2.4M (8ft) or more. The idea is to identify any potential roofing safety hazards or "accidents waiting to happen".
The topics here are mentioned in many different roofing codes but I hope this is more of a practical person's guide. It is aimed at contractors, tradespeople and the DIY.

  • Make sure that you comply with any local roofing safety regulations and roofing codes regarding the use of edge protection, harnesses etc.
  • Walk around the whole building and make ABSOLUTELY SURE that you know the position of any electrical services. The main point of entry for power, any other power lines in the vicinity.
  • Assess or measure the pitch or angle of the roof, with a view to having to take extra safety measures on steeper roofs.
  • Make yourself aware of potential hazards like noxious fumes from chimneys or vents.
  • Position your access to the roof well away from any of these.
  • If you are using a ladder make sure that you know how to use it safely.
  • Keep the area around the roof access clear and any work area on the ground clear.
  • If the site is wet and muddy, provide a flat clean area at the base of the roof access and a mat to clean off shoes.
  • If necessary make a positive identification of the roofing material. It may have special characteristics that you need to be aware of. The cladding may have turned brittle with age etc.
  • Inspect the roof with a view to finding out how sound or fragile it is. Some roofs may not be able to carry the weight of people or materials.
  • Asses any likely danger from tools or materials falling within the roofed area and say 3M of a roof edge. If necessary provide warning signs.
  • Provide and use earth leakage detectors, ELD, RCD
  • Do not allow anyone on the roof who does not have to be there, who has not got a basic grasp of roofing safety.

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roofing safety, edge protection
Roofing safety - A worker fixing steel purlins on a large site, wearing safety clothing, hard hat, harness and having roof edge protection.

Roofing safety, a list of don'ts.

The most important aspect of safety on a roof is to have a sharp and clear mind, to be alert looking out for yourself and your work mates, on the roof and below you. I may be stating "the bleeding obvious" here, but there is no harm done repeating any of this stuff.

  • Don't take drugs, impairing medication or drink alcohol before or while working on a roof.
  • Roofing can be hard exhausting work so do not push your physical limits to the extent that you are "not thinking straight".
  • Likewise with extremes of weather, do not continue working on a roof if you are starting to feel the effects of dehydration or heat stress, or numbing cold.
  • Quite often I see teams of roofers with a radio on the job. At times roofing can be a boring repetitive task, but even so I believe that the mind should be focused on the job in hand, not external entertainment. Warnings have to be so much louder and insistent when a radio is blaring.
  • Don't go on a roof in inclement weather. This includes high winds, rain, frost or even dew on steeper roofs.
  • Don;t use inappropriate footwear. Bare feet, thongs, or slippery soled shoes or boots. Steel toe cap boots may be mandatory on the site, but if the soles are slippery use good none skid soled runners on the roof.
  • Don't step onto ladders, scaffolding or a roof with muddy shoes.
  • Don't drag electrical leads over sharp edges, lay them out so that they are clear of obstructions and snags.

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Always use and wear your roofing safety equipment.

Just imagine a conversation with a work mate who has had a near miss accident and his safety gear has saved him from serious injury.

  • He may have been so engrossed in the job that he walked backwards into the edge protection.
  • Maybe he stood on a purlin that twisted under him, fell and was brought up swinging by his safety harness.
  • What if a spanner fell from the roof and bounced off his hard hat?

Can you imagine your mate who used to say that "edge protection is in the way and a pain in the bum", EVER saying the same again?.... No way!

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Things to do when working on a roof.

A bit of repetition here maybe.

  • Tie off your ladder, top and bottom if it going to be in the one place for a while.
  • Wear your safety equipment. Wear rubber soled non slippery shoes.
  • Check the work of the previous guys on the job, is it finished, is it OK, no missing bolts or loose pieces.
  • Keep alert watch what you are doing and what is going on around you.
  • Keep the roof clean, don't leave scraps lying about.
  • Watch your electric leads. Keep them tidy.
  • Don't work on too steep or otherwise slippery roofs without taking extra measures to stop slipping. Don't risk it and just rely on the edge protection. These roofing safety items are there to stop pure accidents only. They are not to be used as an excuse for otherwise unsafe practises.

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A few cautionary tales or lapses in basic roofing safety.

Many young guys with the confidence of youth take the attitude "it will never happen to me". Well let me tell you mate, we oldies have been there and done that!

When I was about 18 I stepped out of an attic dormer window onto a slate roof three stories up. The job was simple, fix two or three broken tiles. I had an old guy to pass me the materials as I needed them.
In less time than it takes to to tell this, I started sliding slowly towards the edge 20 ft away. I started running at an angle of 45 deg across and down the roof and leaped off the gable end onto a flat roof 8ft below.

  • If I hadn't been young and fit I could have been splattered on the pavement below.
  • If I hadn't been young and stupid I wouldn't have gone on the roof in the first place without a harness.

Have a quick glance at this item on my ladder safety page and then consider this:-

My old mate Larry gets up onto his roof early one Saturday morning, with a cup of coffee to have a look around and plan his work for the day.
He slips on the dew coated sheeting and falls no more than three feet onto a concrete block wall. Maybe he was lucky that he didn't fall further onto the concrete slab.
Instead he impaled his calf on a 12mm starter rebar and hung there for about two hours until a fiend came by, just by chance!

Bazza finished up in a similar but less serious situation, I mention here

Bob was working on his second story roof when he saw his three years old son looking at him from the top of the extension ladder. It was an extremely tense time before he quietly got the attention of his offsider on the ground who came up behind the youngster.

Each one of these examples happened because someone forgot or chose to ignore basic roofing safety as laid down in most roofing codes.

There's a common saying in aviation circles:
"There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots"

Don't be a bold roofer.

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Please Note! The information on this site is offered as a guide only!  When we are talking about areas where building regulations or safety regulations could exist,the information here could be wrong for your area.  It could be out of date!  Regulations breed faster than rabbits!
You must check your own local conditions.
Copyright © Bill Bradley 2007-2012. All rights reserved.
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