Roofers have consistently been ranked among the most dangerous professions. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “more than one-third of fall deaths in residential construction are caused by falls from roofs.”
OSHA is the main federal agency that oversees the enforcement of safety and health legislation, including the use of fall protection in residential construction. Professional roofing contractors consider fall protection among the most serious aspects of a roofing project.
In order to help prevent falls from roofs, OSHA has initiated a Fall Protection Campaign, which outlines three steps for roofing contractors: Plan, Provide and Train. Professional roofing contractors take each of these steps into consideration before, during and after each roofing project.
Planning begins well before the professional roofing crew reaches a jobsite. An evaluation of the roof and site by the roofing company’s owner, supervisor or professional roofer will determine how the job will be completed safely.
Considerations for the assessment can include several factors. An older home that is being re-roofed will have different safety considerations than a new construction home that is having its first roof installed.
Some of the fall hazards on a jobsite for a re-roof project can include uneven sheeting, holes, skylights and loose roofing materials. For all roofs, leading edges and weather conditions are factors to consider, as are the other workers on the ground who could be struck by falling debris, job materials or tools.
Tools and materials to be used during the roofing project can also be a fall hazard and their placement should be considered during the planning stage. Materials should be located so workers can easily reach them. Slide guards can keep materials and tools from sliding off the roof. Installing slide guards or establishing a restricted area around a home keeps workers on the ground protected from falling objects.
OSHA mandates that “employers must provide roofers fall protection equipment that meets OSHA requirements whenever they work six feet or more above a lower level.” As many roofing jobs fall into this category, the type of fall protection equipment necessary for each job must also be considered during the planning stage.
There are numerous fall protection systems available to protect roofers. The type or types of systems utilized can differ from job to job, and even from one portion of the job to another.
One of the most common types of fall protection systems for roofers is a personal fall arrest system (PFAS), which is designed to safety stop a falling roofer from striking a lower level or the ground. A PFAS includes an anchor, harness and connector, such as a lanyard or lifeline to connect the harness to the anchor. The condition and fit of each PFAS should be inspected regularly.
Other available components of a PFAS can include horizontal lifelines and rope grabs.
Temporary guardrails, fall restraint systems, ladders, scaffolds and aerial lifts are other ways to eliminate fall hazards depending on the conditions of the jobsite. OSHA further defines fall protection requirements for each type of equipment.
Each type of fall protection equipment is complex in both its setup and use, which leads to the final step of OSHA’s Fall Protection Campaign: Train.
Training roofers on the proper set-up and use of fall protection equipment and the correct way to use the tools needed to complete the job are important ways to prevent falls.
It is also necessary to train them to recognize hazards while on the job and to be aware of the placement of tools and equipment on the roof. Even common equipment such as air hoses, power cords and lifelines can cause a roofer to slip and fall.
The owner of the roofing company, a supervisor or another employee who has training, knowledge and experience with fall protection equipment, can offer training.
For new roofing businesses or owners who need assistance understanding OSHA regulations, OSHA’s Consultation Program for small and medium-sized businesses provides consultants to work with employers and owners to identify workplace hazards, provide on advice on compliance with OHSA standards and assist in establishing injury prevention programs.
By following each of the steps, and participating in OSHA’s Consultation Program if needed, professional roofing contractors can provide a safe working environment and prevent life-threatening falls from the roof.