When it comes to installing a roof, safety should be your primary concern at all times. Skipping good safety practices because they take too much time makes it all the more likely an accident will happen—so why take the chance?
There are many safety issues to consider if you’re 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:
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 account for many serious injuries and deaths in construction. According to Professional Roofing magazine, an average of 6 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 roof, protect yourself with safety equipment such as a safety harness-lanyard system, safety net, and guardrails
- Set up and climb your ladder properly
- Be mindful of skylight locations
Use ladders that conform to local codes and are approved by the American Ladders Institute in the U.S. or Canada's Centre For Occupational Health and Safety in Canada. Inspect your ladder carefully before use. Never 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. When accessing the ladder, anchor the base of the ladder with stakes driven into the ground or use a heavy object such as a cinder block. 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.
- The base of the ladder should extend out 1 foot for every 4 feet of elevation.
- Make sure to climb your ladder safely—always face the ladder, use one rung at a time, never slide down a ladder, maintain at least 3 points of contact with the ladder (1 hand and 2 feet, or 2 hands and one foot) and do not overload your ladder. When ascending or descending, use the rails, not the rungs. 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. This will help prevent children and other unauthorized people from climbing the ladders and getting injured.
NOTE: 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.
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 or come near electrical wires.
NOTE: 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.
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. Inspect your hammer for a mushroomed head. If observed, discard the hammer. 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 and 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 or attempt to un-jam the tool when connected to the air supply, and inspect hoses for breaks or leaks. Also keep in mind hoses can be a trip hazard on the roof. Keep the tool clean and maintained properly. Never point nail guns at people or yourself.
Utility Knife Safety:
Always cut away from your body. Keep an eye on your non-dominant hand when cutting and position it out of the “line of fire”. 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. Look for auto retracting blades to ensure a safer job site. Consider purchasing self-retracting safety knives.
Make a material handling plan before your products are on site. When lifting heavy materials, always bend at the knees to use your legs. Bending at the waist will put unnecessary – and often painful – strain on your back. It can be surprising just how much material must be delivered to and moved around a roofing job site! Be sure to carry one bundle at a time—carrying too much fatigues the body and is unsafe on ladders and rooftops. Consider using a ladder lift or ladder hoist system. This would eliminate the risk of carrying a heavy bundle of shingles up a ladder to the roof! Store material close to the roof—the closer to the roof, the less time and energy wasted retrieving material.
Keep a keen eye on the weather forecast before you begin. Make sure to have plenty of water on the worksite and plan frequent breaks. Rooftops can reach 170°F (77°C) or higher. Heat related illnesses can result in hospitalization or even lead to death. 20% of heat related illness victims can die without prompt medical assistance. Know the symptoms of heat stress (red face, excessive sweating, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, and nausea) and get immediate emergency medical help as soon as possible before it progresses to a more severe heat exhaustion or potentially fatal heat stroke.
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:
The safety equipment you will need to install a roof may include, but is not limited to: