Learn Roofing Safety
Sadly, working at height is the single biggest cause of fatal and serious injury throughout the whole of the construction industry. By law, all employers and self-employed contractors are required to carefully assess the risks, then organise and plan the work to ensure every step of the process is carried out safely.
Where possible it is advised that working from height is avoided, however if it is necessary for the job, then all precautions and planning must be taken to carry each step out safely.
Trips & Falls
Falls account for many serious injuries and deaths in construction. In fact, according to Roofing Today, around 35 roofers die each year in the UK from falls on average and the HSE states that over 60% of deaths during working at height jobs involve falls from ladders, scaffolds, working platforms, roof edges as well as through fragile roof structure and rooflights.
To help protect against this, it is incredibly important that the appropriate safety steps are taken every time you move up and down the roof structure. 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.
Before starting any kind of work, you must always carefully plan out safe access points to the roof space. Examples of safe access points may include:
- Stair towers
- Roof access hatches
- Mobile access equipment
- General access scaffolds
- Fixed or mobile scaffold towers
Working on a fragile roof structure can be extremely dangerous so careful evaluation, planning and precautions must be taken to ensure you and everyone involved stay as safe as possible. A combination of stagings, guard rails, fall restraints, fall arrests and safety nets positioned under and around the roof may necessary when working near or on a fragile roof structure.
A good rule to follow is that all roofs should be considered fragile until confirmed not. NEVER trust that a sheeted roof could carry the full weight of a person, regardless of the type of material used. In particular, the following materials are likely to be fragile:
- Fibre-cement sheets that are non-reinforced
- Liner panels on built up sheeted roofs
- Corroded metal sheets
- Rotted chipboard or similar materials
- Glass including wired glass
- Wood wool slabs
Also make sure to watch out for rooflights, as they can be extremely fragile with weight applied. They may be difficult to spot in certain lighting conditions so ensure you provide appropriate protection using barriers or covers that are appropriately labelled and secured.
PPE stands for personal protective equipment. It is designed to provide an additional layer of vital protection to the wearer, lessening the chances of injury by shielding your skin, eyes, mouth, ears, feet and head. Wearing the appropriate PPE when working on a roof is absolutely vital so be sure to familiarise yourself with the various types:
- Trousers – Working on a roof opens up the potential for cuts, bruises, grazes and even burns. Wearing an appropriate pear of protective trousers will help to minimise this.
- Footwear – Steel toecaps help to protect your feet from heavy falling objects whilst midsole protection helps to prevent puncture caused by sharp nails and other materials. You also need to ensure that the shoes you are working have appropriate grip and stability for working up on a roof.
- Gloves – Your hands can be exposed to all types of materials, sharp objects, tools and substances so keep them protected whilst still allowing accessibility.
- Goggles – A pair of clear, protective goggles will protect your eyes from dust, dirt, grit, wind and sharp objects.
- Dust mask – Wearing a dust mask will prevent you from inhaling dust and harmful substances that have the potential to cause dangerous respiratory issues.
- Knee Pads – Knee pads will protect the knees from strain and damage caused by compression and wear on the knee joint.
- Helmet – Not only do safety helmets protect your head if you were to fall from the roof, but they also help to protect you from impact caused by objects that may hit you from height whilst on the ground/coming down the ladder.
Take the following precautions to ensure your work area is safe and secure:
- Block the area 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).
- Clear all debris from the area before starting work
- Make sure all hazardous/sharp/dangerous equipment, products and materials are always in view.
Making sure to set up your ladder properly is a fundamental step in basic roofing safety. Take the following precautions to ensure safe and secure use of your ladder:
- 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.
- 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 – this is a very important step
When moving up and down the ladder be careful 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.
Although a very commonly used tool, it is still important to take the necessary safety steps with every single use of a hammer. To prevent accidents and keep yourself safe make sure you:
- Always wear eye protection.
- Strike nails squarely to minimise the risk of nails flying back at you.
- Appropriately discard damaged hammers with cracked handles or heads.
- Never strike a hardened steel hammer against another hardened steel object.
Power Nail Tools
Tools such as this need to be treated with extreme care and caution. A pneumatic nail gun is basically a weapon so you must ensure to take the appropriate steps to protect yourself and the people around you. Make sure you stick to the following guidelines every time you use:
- 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.
Although great for getting the perfect cut edge, utility knifes can be extremely dangerous when used incorrectly. Every time you use a utility knife ensure you:
- Always cut away from your body.
- Never use a dull blade; dull blades have to be forced which increases the chances of slipping.
- Replace blades frequently following the appropriate replacement guidelines.
- Retract the blade when storing to reduce the chance of accidental cuts.
To avoid injury when lifting heavy materials make sure you:
- Always use your legs, not your back.
- Only carry one bundle at a time—carrying too much fatigues the body and is unsafe on ladders and rooftops.
- Store the material in a safe area that is close to the roof—the closer to the roof, the less time and energy wasted retrieving material.
When working on a roof, you may be exposed to electricity through overhead power lines, building wiring, extension cords as well as electrically powered hand tools. When the appropriate safety advice is not followed in relation to electricity, you can put yourself at major risk of electrocution, shock, burns and fire. Keep safe by doing the following:
- Locate all electrical utilities & overhead power lines prior to starting work
- Ensure you keep at a safe distance from power lines at all times
- Avoid overloading circuits
- Only use approved and checked equipment
- Minimise the use of extension cords as much as possible
- Use equipment that is properly grounded or double-insulated
- Regularly inspect equipment and cords for damage
- Never cover cords with mats, rugs or other material
- Don’t use wet electrical equipment
- Don’t use electrical equipment close to water
In some areas of roofing work, you may be required to handle hazardous or potentially harmful substances. The use of hazardous substances should be actively avoided; however this may not always be possible. Always try to use the least hazardous products you can to minimise exposure. Follow all guidelines, warnings and advise from manufacturer on how to use in the safest way possible and always wear appropriate PPE such as masks, gloves and protective goggles.
In the UK especially, the weather even in the summer months can be very unprecedented. Sudden rain and hail storms are not uncommon but can be very dangerous when working from height. Being appropriately prepared for all potential weather conditions is the best way of ensuring optimum safety.
It is never recommended that you work in extremely hot or cold weather. Not only can extreme temperatures put your health and safety at risk, but they can also lead to damaged or incorrectly laid roofing materials.
Never work in weather that you feel is putting your safety at risk. Watch out for the following when considering if the weather is safe to continue working:
- Water, snow and ice create very slippery surfaces that can lead to slips, falls and even fatalities.
- In very heavy storms, fog and mist, visibility can be hindered which can potentially be very risky.
- High winds can knock you over and even blow supplies, materials, equipment and debris around the work site.
- Very hot or humid weather may lead to sunburn, dehydration and fatigue.
- Extremely low temperatures may affect the functionality of your tools and equipment as well as causing potential health risks to you without appropriate warm clothing.
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:
- Carpenter's level
- Circular saw
- Claw hammer
- Combination square
- Electric drill
- Finish hammer
- Framing hammer
- Nail gun
- Roofing shovel
- Saw horse
- Screwdriver set
- Seaming pliers
- Shingle cutter
- Shingle remover or ripper
- Sturdy ladder(s)
- Tape measure
- Tin snips
- Utility knife
- Wrench set
Although working on a roof does come with its dangers and risks, you can keep yourself and those around you safe and protected by always following the necessary steps, advise and guidelines. 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?
It is always recommended that you read up and familiarise yourself with all official guidelines and recommendations when working at height. Take the time to correctly plan and prepare with the correct PPE, equipment, tools and materials to get the job done safely. As always, if you aren’t comfortable carrying work out yourself, there’s no shame in hiring a professional. Learn how to find a good roofer.
If you have any further questions or queries, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our friendly customer service team who will be more than happy to help. Simply give them a call on 01295 565565, email [email protected], or leave a message in our handy live chat.