Up on the Rooftop?
What you need to know to avoid a fall from a roof.
By Theresa Coleman
Have you run so many trusses, sheathing and shingles that you think you could swagger across a tightrope strung above Niagara Falls—with your eyes clothes pushing a wheelbarrow full of concrete?
Don't even think about it, tough guy.
Even if you have the balance and grace of Baryshnikov or Michelle Kwan, you better keep reading. Everyone has a bad day, even you. Know how I know?
Falls are still the top cause of construction fatalities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics' preliminary numbers state that 394 fatalities were caused by falls in construction in 2005, with one-third of these workers falling from a roof. Roofers rank third in number of fatalities, with construction laborers and carpenters leading the way. And for these top three types of construction workers, falls are the leading cause of all fatalities across the board.
And it's more than just balance and paying attention that keeps you safe up on the roof. You need to know how to move on the roof surface. You also need to know what you can and can't walk on. In roof work, falls usually happen from the roof edge, through roof openings, through skylights, and through roof surfaces.
In order to avoid falls from a roof, make sure you and everyone on the jobsite follow a few simple safety rules from OSHA:
Always wear sturdy, slip-resistant shoes when working on a roof.
If it's windy or there's a storm brewing, don't attempt roof work.
Before you start working on the roof, look around for any slipping hazards, including ice and frost.
If you are working at a height above 6 feet, you need some type of safety protection that can include guardrail systems, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system.
Use guardrails around any roof openings, including skylights.
If your roof pitch is more than 4:12 and up to 6:12, install slide guards along the roof eave after the first 3 rows of roofing material. If the pitch is more than 6:12, you'll need slide guards every 8 feet.
If the roof pitch is more than 8:12 or the roof height exceeds 25 feet, you need a safety-harness system (personal fall-arrest system) with a solid anchor point.
Some builders may leave a permanent anchor point on the roof for homeowners to utilize later. And there is a safety system often referred to as "compliance in a can" that provides a personal fall-arrest system for professionals and even homeowners working on their roofs.
But before you go out and buy a personal fall-arrest system and start working on a roof, be aware it must be used cautiously. "When you are tied off with a personal fall arrest system, you should always work in pairs," recommends Rob Matuga, director of Labor, Safety, and Health at the
National Association of Home Builders. "If you fall while wearing a personal fall arrest system, pressure is put on your body in a way that could become fatal if you are alone."
Even if you still think it will always be that "other guy" who will be injured, and you'll be getting a casting call from Heroes any day now, stop and think about that other guy working next to you. You are setting a bad example on your jobsite when you don't follow safety regulations. You may just save that other guy's life when you work safely, too.
If you'd like to learn more about roof safety, check out the NAHB-OSHA Fall Protection Handbook, English-Spanish and the Fall Protection video (available early in 2007). Along with the OSHA guidelines, there are photos and drawings that illustrate how to use fall protection systems, including guardrails, covers, and personal fall arrest systems. The book also shows you the safe way to install trusses, raise balloon walls, perform roofing work, use aerial lifts, and much more.
Theresa Coleman is the editor of more than 60 books for the homebuilding industry, creator of Build It! the card game for builders from NAHB, and author of Do-It-Yourself Home Improvement from DK Publishing.