While the number of roofing contractors dying due to workplace injuries decreased in 2020, the position now ranks as one of the top three fatal occupations in the United States, explains Roofing Contractor magazine.
Fall deaths from roofing workers account for 20% of construction fatalities and 84% of roofer deaths, reports the National Roofing Contractors Association.
Roofing is one of the most dangerous occupations. There is no room for safety violations because the consequences can be dire.
Our checklist below provides job-site safety tips and crew awareness of safety measures.
Commercial Roofing Safety Checklist
Plan Ahead - Assess the Workplace
It's vital to create a commercial roofing safety plan encompassing your project from start to finish. Consider the necessary roofing tasks, safety equipment, material delivery, safe debris disposal, and proper training and briefing of workers.
Ensure Safe Roof Access
If the roof doesn't have a straightforward access route like stairs, plan for a safe and reliable roof access method.
Sometimes it's necessary to use ladders, scaffolds, and boom lifts. But, they must be applied according to OSHA standards.
Also, consider how your crew will safely haul materials onto the roof. Will you need dozens of pails of heavy adhesive? Multiple rolls of membrane material? Even a small 5,000 square-foot roof requires about 20, five-gallon buckets of adhesive to install a traditional EPDM system. Large rolls (10 x 100) can weigh upwards of 430 pounds, making them challenging to haul without special equipment and multiple team members.
"Though Elevate's line of self-adhering EPDM and TPO is specifically designed to help contractors unroll more roofs in the same season, it can also improve jobsite safety, since the SA installation process limits the amount of materials, tools, and people needed to get the job done," says Chris Mahon, Senior Product Manager of Thermoplastic Membranes.
Differentiate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Workers need different types of PPE depending on the roofing job and site-specific conditions. Evaluate the project and account for all protective equipment.
Standard PPE used for roofing tasks:
- Hearing and eye protection (safety glasses)
- Work gloves
- High-visibility clothing (construction vests)
- Hard hats
- Safety toe work boots
- Personal fall arrest systems
Working on roofs can get busy. This is a fast-paced environment, so it's easy for workers to forget to use PPE. Roofing contractors should be trained in proper PPE use and assessment. If any piece of PPE is damaged, it should be replaced immediately.
Coordinate With Other Contractors
All contractors should be aware of current operations. It's necessary to coordinate the site use if multiple contracting jobs occur.
If material delivery, debris disposal, moving equipment, or other day-to-day activities are not coordinated with hazard prevention in mind, worker safety may be jeopardized.
Protect Workers with Personal Fall Arrest Systems
OSHA's 1926.501(b)(1) standard states, "Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems."
Personal fall arrest systems ("PFA") help prevent a person from falling and safely arrest the worker if a fall occurs.
The PFA consists of an anchor, a full body harness, and a lifeline or lanyard. Usually, the PFA also includes a deceleration device.
The body harness must fit the worker properly. The PFA system must be set up to prevent the roofer from free falling more than 6 feet or reaching a lower level, advises OSHA's 1926.501(b)(1) standard.
The anchor point carrying the worker's load must be able to support 5,000 pounds per attached worker, according to OSHA's 1926.502(d)(15) standard.
Use Guardrails Systems
Guardrail systems are effective and quick to install. Many guardrail solutions are available for commercial building roofing services — these systems can address specific safety concerns of a job site, depending on the roof shape.
It's possible to install temporary guardrails on parapet walls, flat/low edges, concrete slabs, and other structural components.
The top rail of a guardrail system must be 39-45 inches above the walking surface. If there is no wall or parapet wall present, it's necessary to install midrails or screens between the top rail of the guardrail system and the walking/working area.
Additionally, a guardrail must be able to endure a 200-pound force in any outward or downward direction within 2 inches from the top edge according to OSHA 29 CFR 1926.502(b)(3).
Install Safety Net Systems
Safety nets should be installed under walking surfaces but never lower than 30 feet below the working area. Border rope used for webbing must have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds.
It's vital to allow sufficient clearance beneath the safety-net installation plane to prevent contact with the surface below if the worker falls into it.
Set Up Warning Lines
Warning lines can be used for commercial roofing activities on low-sloped roofs (2018, OSHA Roofing Fall Protection). The warning line system must be combined with a guardrail, a safety net, a PFA, or a safety monitoring system.
Warning flag lines should be set up 6 feet from the roof's edge along its perimeter. Workers going outside the warning lines must be protected by another fall protection system.
Mark Skylights And Other Openings
A common roofing safety hazard is not covering skylights and other roof openings. Every roof opening must be protected with a cover that can support at least twice the weight of workers, materials, and equipment imposed on it.
These covers must be color-coded or marked with the words "COVER" or "HOLE." Additionally, the cover needs to be firmly installed so accidental displacement by wind, workers, or equipment is impossible.
Account for Extra Precautions in Hot and Cold Weather
Roofing jobs during the summer heat are notoriously challenging. Dehydration and heat stroke are severe heat-related illnesses that may result in death. Plus, roofers experiencing heat exhaustion can lose situational awareness, endangering themselves and others. Employees working during summer heat should always have water, shade, and rest available. OSHA recommends that new workers who've not acclimatized to hot environments should follow the "Rule of 20 percent" for building heat tolerance:
- 20 percent on the first day: OSHA advises that new workers should work in the heat only 20 percent of the normal duration on their first day.
- 20 percent each additional day: Then, increase work duration in the heat by 20 percent on subsequent days until the worker is performing a normal schedule. The "Rule of 20 percent" process takes about a week.
Cold winter days present another set of challenges. Just as roofing in winter requires special precautions, so does workers' safety. Windy, wet, and icy conditions are particularly hazardous for roofing contractors. Frozen hands and feet reduce a worker's dexterity and agility, making it easier to slip and fall, especially if snow and ice are on the roof. Snow on the roof melts at different rates depending on exposure to sunlight, membrane reflectivity, building use, and the amount of insulation, so your roof may be covered with deep snow or a sheet of ice. Consider marking drain locations and installing fall protection systems to reduce the risk of injury.
Ensure proper ice and snow removal from the working area and direct your workers to wear adequate winter clothing. It's advisable to provide workers more time to complete the job in winter. Rushing is dangerous, and most roofing materials require extra drying time in low temperatures.
You can learn more about roofing safety from NRCA's free webinars and OSHA's guidance document for protecting roofing workers.
Elevate is here to ensure your project goes smoothly. Reach out to your local Sales Representative for product information, and to see how we can help you. Also, visit Elevate Vantage Point for more trade resources to help you stay ahead as a contractor.