Home Roofing Staying Safe While Working on the Roof

Staying Safe While Working on the Roof

by Michael Blount

Working on the roof can be a dangerous job. Falls are one of the leading causes of injuries for roofers, and working at heights poses many hazards. However, with proper planning, precautions, and safety practices, the risks involved with roof work can be significantly reduced. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of how to stay safe when working on the roof.

The Importance of Roof Safety

Before setting foot on the roof, it’s critical to understand the gravity of the situation—one misstep can lead to serious or fatal injuries. Falls are the top cause of roofer fatalities, accounting for around 3 out of 5 deaths in the roofing industry. Falls can also result in traumatic brain injuries, paralysis, broken bones, and other life-altering consequences.

Beyond falls, roofers face hazards like electrocutions, lacerations, heat illness, and respiratory issues when working with toxic materials. That’s why every roofing job demands focus, caution, and preparation. By taking the proper precautions, these risks can be minimized.

This article will provide roofers, homeowners, and anyone working at heights with the essential advice and best practices to follow for maximum safety when on the roof. We’ll cover evaluating the risks, setting up equipment, using safety gear properly, dealing with emergencies, and maintaining safety after finishing the roofing job. Following these guidelines can help prevent needless injuries and ensure everyone returns home safely after a hard day’s work.

Assessing the Risks of Working on the Roof

Before starting any roofing project, take time to identify and understand the potential hazards. While falls are the most apparent risk, several other dangers need to be kept in mind.

Identifying Hazards

The main hazards involved with roof work include:

  • Falls – falls off ladders, through openings, or from the roof edge
  • Slips/Trips – loss of traction on a steep or slippery roof surface
  • Electrocutions – contact with live wires from overhead power lines
  • Cuts – sharp tools, debris, and materials can lacerate skin
  • Burns – hot tar, sealants, and surfaces like metal roofs can cause burns
  • Eye Injuries- debris and materials getting in unprotected eyes
  • Respiratory Issues – breathing in toxic fumes or dust particles

Understanding the Risks

By comprehending the specific risks these hazards pose, proper precautions can be taken.

  • Falls from heights almost always lead to severe injury or death. A fall protection system should be used.
  • Slips occur easily on steep, angled roofs covered in loose debris or leaves. Proper footwear provides traction.
  • Electrocution is possible if working near power lines. Maintain a 10 foot buffer zone.
  • Lacerations from sharp tools, nails, or metal sheeting can be deep and prone to infection. Wear thick work gloves.
  • Hot tar and sealants or sun-heated metal roofs can produce severe burns. Long sleeves/pants should be worn.
  • Flying debris and materials in eyes will be painful and can cause blindness. Wear eye protection.
  • Breathing dust from shingles or fumes from chemicals pose respiratory risks. Use proper masks/respirators.

Conducting a Risk Assessment

Before starting a roofing project, conduct a thorough risk assessment of the work site and tasks involved.

  • Carefully inspect the roof’s size, slope, sheathing material, and features.
  • Note any damage, defects, or hazards on the roof.
  • Identify overhead and proximity risks like power lines and trees.
  • Consider the weather conditions – wind, storms, heat/cold.
  • Determine what materials and chemicals will be used.
  • Outline the sequence of work to be performed.
  • Inventory potential fall zones and entry/exit points.

Analyzing the specific risks for the project will determine what safety measures need to be implemented. The next step is gathering the proper equipment and preparing for the job accordingly.

Preparing for the Roofing Job

Completing the appropriate preparations is a crucial step in maintaining safety while working on the roof.

Gathering Tools and Equipment

Assemble all the necessary tools, equipment, and materials before starting the roof work:

  • Fall arrest system – anchors, ropes, harnesses
  • Ladder or scaffolding for roof access
  • Roofing materials – shingles, underlayment, fasteners
  • Safety gear – hard hat, gloves, protective eyewear
  • Roofing tools – hammer, utility knife, pry bar
  • First aid kit
  • Barricades and signage to block off the work area

Inspect all tools and equipment for damage before using on the roof.

Securing the Ladder

The ladder must be secure, stable, and meet OSHA requirements:

  • Place ladder on firm, level ground. Secure the base.
  • Extend ladder at least 3 feet above the roofline.
  • Maintain a 75 degree angle – 1 foot out for every 4 feet up.
  • Anchor the top and bottom of the ladder to prevent slipping.
  • Keep metal ladders away from power lines.

Wearing Safety Gear

Proper clothing and safety equipment should be worn at all times on the roof:

  • Long sleeve shirt, pants, and sturdy work boots with traction
  • Hard hat to protect the head from falling objects
  • Work gloves to protect hands from sharp/hot materials
  • Safety glasses, goggles, or a face shield to shield eyes
  • Respirator mask or ventilator when working with chemicals/dust
  • Fall protection harness anchored to a secure tie-off point
  • Knee pads for prolonged kneeling

The right safety gear protects against both common and unexpected roof hazards.

Working Safely on the Roof

Once properly equipped and prepared, it’s time to get up on the roof and begin work. Maintaining safety requires vigilance throughout the roofing process.

Climbing Onto the Roof

  • Place ladders at least 3 feet above the roofline.
  • Maintain 3 points of contact when climbing – two hands and one foot.
  • Avoid carrying heavy or bulky tools/materials while climbing. Hoist them up once in position.
  • When using fall protection, attach the harness and lanyard before mounting the ladder.

Moving Around on the Roof

  • Scan the area as you walk for potential hazards.
  • Use caution near the roof edge, skylights, or other openings.
  • Wear slip-resistant footwear and plant feet carefully while moving about.
  • Utilize installed anchor points and overhead lifelines if available.
  • Avoid walking directly below other workers.
  • Watch for loose shingles, equipment, or debris underfoot.

Working on Sloped Roofs

  • Install toe boards to prevent tools from sliding down the roof.
  • Place roof jacks, planks, or fall protection with lifelines when working near the ridge.
  • Start at the bottom and move upwards to avoid falling debris.
  • Kneel or sit when performing tasks near the ridge or edge.
  • Keep both feet firmly planted when swinging a hammer.

Using Safety Equipment

  • Secure anchors at least 5 feet from the roof edge.
  • Connect fall arrest system before getting on the roof.
  • Keep lifelines taught to prevent major falls.
  • Use a body harness rather than belts which can cause injury.
  • Install temporary guardrails or debris nets when possible.

Taking Breaks

  • Drink water and rest in the shade to prevent heat illness.
  • Climb down from the roof to eat, cool off, or use the restroom.
  • Do not rush through work – take adequate breaks to maintain mental focus.

Dealing with Emergencies

Despite the best efforts, accidents still happen. Preparations should be made in advance for dealing with emergencies on the roof.

Preparing for Emergencies

  • Carry a charged cell phone to call for help if needed.
  • Know the location of the nearest hospital, clinic, or EMT responders.
  • Maintain current CPR, first aid, and AED certifications.
  • Have an emergency action plan for prompt evacuation.
  • Provide regular safety training for all roof crew members.

Responding to Injuries

  • Remain calm, stop work, and call for help immediately if someone is injured.
  • Administer first aid if you have proper training and it is safe to reach the victim.
  • If the injury resulted from a fall, do not move the person unless absolutely necessary.
  • Take measures to prevent a secondary accident before resuming work.

Calling for Professional Help

Call 911 immediately in any of these situations:

  • A serious or life-threatening injury has occurred.
  • The victim is unconscious or unresponsive.
  • A building collapse, structural failure, electrocution, or other crisis has occurred.
  • Specialized rescue from heights, confined spaces or other risks is needed.
  • Medical attention beyond first aid is required.

Having an emergency response plan in place allows for fast, effective action when it is needed most.

Maintaining Safety After the Job

Just because the roofing project is done doesn’t mean safety measures should cease. Follow these guidelines after completing roof work:

Cleaning Up

  • Remove all tools, materials, debris, trash, and equipment from the roof.
  • Sweep/collect any stray fasteners or nails to prevent future foot injuries.
  • Secure any openings in the roof sheathing before leaving.
  • Properly dispose of all chemical containers and toxic materials.

Inspecting the Roof

  • Scan the roof surface and perimeter for leftover debris or damage.
  • Check that all anchors, lifelines, and flashings were removed.
  • Document any cracks, leaks, or deficiencies for future repair.
  • Ensure ventilation units, chimney caps, and other roof structures are intact.

Planning Future Work

  • Note any identified issues or vulnerabilities to address on the next visit.
  • Schedule any necessary long-term maintenance or repairs.
  • Update fall protection equipment, anchors, or guardrails as needed.
  • Re-evaluate risks and safety protocol before the next roof project.

Maintaining diligence after finishing roof work prevents overlooked hazards from turning into future incidents.


Working on the roof can be hazardous, but need not be dangerous with proper preparation, safety equipment, training, and work practices. Before starting any roof project, conduct a risk assessment to identify potential hazards unique to the job. Ensure all necessary fall arrest equipment, PPE, tools, and materials are in place. Maintain three points of contact when ascending ladders. Follow safe work practices for moving around the roof, utilizing tie-off points, and taking adequate breaks. Employ emergency response measures like first aid kits, training, and evacuation plans. After work is complete, clean the site, make repairs, and prepare for future jobs. By following these essential guidelines for staying safe while working on the roof, the risk of serious or fatal injuries can be greatly reduced. Employing meticulous safety practices allows roofers and homeowners to avoid tragedy and confidently carry out roof work year after year.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

About Us

We’re your go-to source for all things related to making your home better. Our blog is your one-stop destination for easy-to-understand home improvement ideas.

Whether you’re a DIY enthusiast or just looking for simple ways to enhance your living space, we’ve got you covered.

Decor & Design

Editors' Picks