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Contributed by Dakota Safety 

February 16, 2017 

It's no secret that roof work is dangerous. As of 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks roofing as the 4th most dangerous civilian occupation based on the rate of fatalities per 100,000 full-time workers. Despite the guidelines laid out and updated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) every year, it's clear that more work is needed to improve safety in roofing projects.

That work starts with roofing contractors. When you take steps to minimize risks and maximize safety for your workers, you can get projects done with the least amount of liability on your part. The next time you embark on a roofing project, here are 5 things you should do before getting started.

1. Make sure the weather is clear before starting work.

The last thing you want is a sudden downpour in the middle of a construction project workday, making it dangerous to continue work. Before sending out your workers to do their jobs, check the latest weather updates. If there's even a slight chance of rain, it's better to postpone work now than be liable for rain-induced accidents later.  

The same goes for working under extremely hot weather. If your workers are uncomfortable and their tools and equipment become slippery due to heat-induced sweating, the risk of accidents goes up.

2. Equip your workers for roof safety.

Regardless of the type of project they're working on, your employees must have the tools, equipment, and training to stay safe at all times. To ensure this:

  • Brief workers on safety protocols before they start work. No matter how experienced your workers are, they should be reminded about the importance of fall protection every now and then. After all, OSHA updates its fall protection guidelines regularly and it won't hurt to keep your workers up to speed.

Also, train your workers on how to do their jobs safely on the roof. Tell them to keep their workplaces clean, use their equipment in such a way that injuries are minimized, and to know how to respond in case of an accident. Have at least one person familiar with first aid on the scene, just in case.

  • Make it mandatory for workers to wear personal protective equipment at all times.  Some examples of protective equipment include hard hats, harnesses, and eye protection (to protect against debris when using power tools). Make sure the equipment doesn’t have any defects. Even the tiniest hole in a hard hat or a single loose component in a harness can be risky.
  • Ask workers to check their clothes for anything that can cause them to snag, slip, or have any other kind of accident on the roof. For example, ordinary worn-out shoes don't have the best grip, so ask your workers to invest in quality footwear with soles designed to keep them from slipping.

3. Equip the roof for safety.

As the old saying goes, you can never be too safe. Aside from offering individual protection to your workers, you should also deck the roof such that everyone — regardless of where they are on the roof or what degree of personal protection they are using — remains safe while working at height.

Guardrails, for example, can be set up around the roof edges, making it less likely for workers to walk or fall over them. If you want temporary rails that don't compromise the integrity of the roof, non-penetrating guardrails may fit the bill.

As their name suggests, non-penetrating guardrails are not designed to puncture the roof in any way. Instead, they use a ballast system to hold them in place and many can be customized to complement the architectural design of the roof being worked on.

4. Use the best ladders for the job.

Not all ladders are created equal. If you invest in the best ladder for your particular roof project, you'll go a long way when it comes to keeping roof-related hazards to a minimum. To choose a good ladder:

  • Make sure the ladder is strong, sturdy, and stable. It should not be rickety or shake violently as someone climbs the steps.
  • Make sure the ladder is at least 7 to 10 feet longer than the height of the roof. This way, it'll be easier to set up and allow workers of varying heights to use it safely.
  • Check the performance and duty rating of the ladder. The rating indicates the total weight the ladder can hold at any one time — including specialized tools and the worker using the ladder.
  • Check the material of the ladder. If the ladder is to be placed near an electricity source, it should be made of material that can protect against electrical shocks.

Don't forget to hold the ladder in place with a gutter guard. To make a gutter guard, take a clean piece of wood or plywood, fasten it to where the ladder will lean on the roof deck, put a notch in it, then tie the ladder against the notch.   

5. Keep the roof as clean as possible.

Even a single piece of debris can be a threat to safety. For example, stepping on a wet leaf can send you skidding down the roof. It may seem too bothersome to perform cleanup work on top of construction work, but it’s necessary for the safety of your workers.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to clean a roof. The best way depends on the roof material, the type of dirt to be removed, and the extent of the dirt or damage to the roof.

Granted, keeping roof workers safe can be expensive and time-consuming. Most safety protocols are executed before projects begin, so it's tempting to disregard those protocols in the name of convenience and cost-cutting. Still, all that work eventually pays off in the long run — with healthier, happier employees; smoother construction jobs; and lowered legal liabilities.

Looking for more information on roof safety? Consult a Dakota Safety expert today.

Dakota Safety specializes in providing passive fall protection systems and safety products for clients all across America. They are based in Saint Paul, Minnesota.