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Safety

When it comes to installing a roof, safety should be your number-one priority. Skipping good safety practices because they take too much time makes it all the more likely that an accident will happen—so why take that chance?

There are many safety issues to consider if you are planning to install your own roof. It’s imperative that you take the proper precautions in order to avoid serious injury or even death. Some of the most important areas to address are:

Work Area

Make sure you have a clean, organized work area. Block it off from children and pets. Identify and avoid all site danger areas, such as dangerous power lines, unsafe roof access areas, and underground hazards (such as cesspools and power lines).

Falls

Falls account for many serious injuries and deaths in construction. According to Professional Roofing magazine, an average of six roofers die each month in the U.S. from falls. It’s vital to take appropriate steps to minimize your risk of slipping and falling. Some of these include:

  • Never work on a wet roof.
  • Keep your work area as clean of dirt, tools, and debris as possible.
  • Wear safe footwear—soft-soled boots provide the best roof traction.
  • When working on a steeply pitched roof, protect yourself with safety equipment such as a safety harness, net, and guardrails.
  • Set up and climb your ladder properly.
  • Always wear a helmet to protect your head and prevent more serious injury if you fall.

Ladder Safety

Use ladders that conform to local codes or are approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the U.S. or Canada's Centre For Occupational Health and Safety in Canada. Inspect your ladder carefully before use. Don’t use a damaged or makeshift ladder.

Make sure to set up your ladder properly. Place your ladder on solid, level footing (driveways that slope down away from the roof are a serious risk for ladders). Tie your ladder off at the top or secure with a plywood brace. Set your ladder against a solid backing. Very important—extend your ladder 36 inches above the landing or roof eave to provide a secure location to grab when transitioning from the roof to the ladder.

Make sure to climb your ladder safely—always face the ladder, use one rung at a time, never slide down a ladder, and do not overload your ladder. Don’t push a ladder in to “stretch” it because it’s too short; that makes it too steep and unstable. Make sure you don’t have to reach or stretch too far off the ladder.

Never leave ladders unattended. Remove all ladders from your work area every day or lock them together on the ground overnight.

Important: Keep ladders away from electrical wires and boxes at all times! There have been far too many deaths of roofers due to metal ladders set up near electrical wires.

Electrical Safety

Electricity can leap or “arc” from a wire to a ladder several feet away. Make sure to use a non-conductive ladder of wood or fiberglass when working near wires. Never touch electrical wires with your hands or tools. Remember that metal materials such as flashing and drip edge should never touch electrical wires.

Important: If it’s necessary to work near electrical wires, call your local power company first. They should inspect the wires and insulate them if necessary.

Hammer Safety

When using a hammer, always wear eye protection. Strike nails squarely to reduce the chance of nails flying back at you. Discard damaged hammers with cracked handles or heads. Never strike a hardened steel hammer against another hardened steel object.

Power Nail Safety

Treat this tool with extreme care. A pneumatic nail gun is basically a weapon. Check the operation of the safety; never tie back or disengage the safety. Only use when the gun is on the material to be fastened. Use a well-lubricated and inspected nail gun. Do not rest the tool against your body to eliminate misfires. Use caution with air power—only use clean, dry compressed air, disconnect the air supply as soon as you are finished, never work on the tool when connected to the air supply, and inspect hoses for breaks or leaks. Keep the tool clean and maintained properly. Never point nail guns at people.

Utility Knife Safety

Always cut away from your body. Don’t use a dull blade; dull blades have to be forced, increasing the chances of slipping. Replace blades frequently. Retract the blade when storing to reduce the chance of accidental cuts. Remember, always cut away from your body to help prevent injury.

Material Handling

When lifting heavy materials, always use your legs, not your back. It can be surprising just how much material must be delivered to and moved around a roofing jobsite! Be sure to carry one bundle at a time—carrying too much fatigues the body and is unsafe on ladders and rooftops. Store material close to the roof—the closer to the roof, the less time and energy wasted retrieving material.

You can find more detailed information on roofing safety through various sources online. Here are just a few you may wish to review:

In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issues guidelines for Residential Fall Protection (the use of nets, guardrails, harnesses, etc.). GAF recommends compliance with these guidelines. View their Guidance Document on "Fall Protection in Residential Construction" .

In Canada, Canada's Centre For Occupational Health and Safety is a valuable resource.

Construction Solutions is a database of information on work hazards and practical control measures to reduce or eliminate those hazards. You’ll find safety tips for roofing, ladder use, and roof demolition.

Tools and Safety Equipment

It is imperative to use the proper tools and safety equipment when installing a roof. Always invest in the right tool for the job.

The tools you will need to install a roof may include, but are not limited to:

  • Air compressor
  • Carpenter's level
  • Caulking gun
  • Chalk line
  • Chisel
  • Circular saw
  • Clamp
  • Claw hammer
  • Clean-up cloth
  • Combination square
  • Electric drill
  • Finish hammer
  • Framing hammer
  • Hacksaw
  • Handsaw
  • Magnet
  • Nail gun
  • Roofing shovel
  • Saw horse
  • Screwdriver set
  • Seaming pliers
  • Shingle cutter
  • Shingle remover or ripper
  • Staple gun
  • Sturdy ladder(s)
  • Tape measure
  • Tin snips
  • Utility knife
  • Wrench set

The safety equipment you will need to install a roof may include, but is not limited to:

  • Eye protection
  • Guardrails
  • Ladder stabilizer
  • Lanyard
  • Netting
  • Roof anchors
  • Roof brackets
  • Rope
  • Safety harness
  • Scaffolding
  • Work gloves

Special Considerations

If your roof has an extremely steep pitch, it is imperative that you use the proper safety equipment.

You should avoid any work on the roof during extremely hot or cold weather. Roofing in extreme temperatures can lead to damaged shingles or shingles that will not lie or seal properly.

It is important to use the proper installation and repair materials for specific roof types. Failure to do so can lead to expensive roof damage. Always follow the shingle manufacturer’s instructions for the proper products to use on your type of roof.

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