While no one should fear for their life while making a buck for their family, the reality is that some jobs are more dangerous than others. Roofing, for example, is quite literally one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S., with the second highest workplace fatality rate according to Roofing Contractor Magazine and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Commercial contractors and project management teams must take roof safety seriously to keep their employees safe.

In this guide, we put together a comprehensive checklist for commercial roof safety that will be easy to follow and apply to any commercial project. Property owners can refer to this checklist to feel more informed about their contractors and contractors can use it to guide their safety protocols on commercial projects. 

The Most Common Commercial Roof Safety Hazards

When folks think of roofing-related injuries, falls from the building are the first to come to mind. However, there are other risks associated with commercial roofs, including other types of falls and occupational hazards. Here are some of the most common:

Ladders

Ladders are a necessary part of the roofing industry, but they can be some of the most dangerous hazards on a project. Whether fixed or portable, they introduce risks of slips, falls, accidental drops, or striking other employees while being transported.

Skylights

Skylights and hatches are prime areas for slips and falls. A roofer might not see the protrusion while carrying an item across the roof. Or, they may slip and fall, landing on the hatch and potentially breaking through to the floor below. 

Debris

Debris creates a trip or slip hazard on every project, but the height of commercial buildings enhances the danger. 

metal ladder permanently attached to the side of a commercial building

Rooftop Temperatures

Temperatures need careful consideration. Commercial roofers are exposed to the elements every day, and if the temperatures are too high, they can become dehydrated, suffer heat stroke, and lose situational awareness. If the temperatures are cold, they can lose coordination of their limbs or slip on ice or snow. 

Barriers and Walls

Barriers and walls serve safety and architectural purposes, but they can be just as hazardous as other rooftop dangers. Walls between transitions can cause trip hazards. Parapet walls requiring work bring commercial roofers directly to the edge of the commercial building where falls can be the most disastrous.

Chemical Exposure

Chemical exposure should be a concern for commercial roof contractors. Membranes that need to be adhered to the surface require adhesives and solvents, most of which contain harmful VOCs and chemicals that can make a roofer feel lightheaded, disoriented, or short of breath. 

Power Tools

Power tools such as those using electricity, battery power, or pneumatics can pose their own threats. Loud noises, errantly fired fasteners, and dangers associated with power tools can injure workers. 

Slippery Surfaces

Slippery conditions caused by inclement weather, morning dew, or mechanical equipment leaks pose serious threats to commercial roofing contractors and their employees. Many times, it can be hard to notice these slippery spots, taking roofing contractors off their feet long before they can do anything about it. 

Poor Visibility

Poor visibility prevents a worker from having full use of their senses, often causing trips or even balance issues as they walk across the roofing surface. 

Physical Strain

Physical strain is another major concern, as commercial roof work is a labor-intensive career. Lifting and carrying dozens of buckets of adhesive, rolls of membrane, toolboxes, and other items can leave roofers feeling exhausted. Similarly, installing the roofing material on the roofing deck in the heat, cold, or even the most pleasant days can impact the roofing crew. 

Safety Essentials for Commercial Roof Companies

There’s good news: although the dangers are many, avoiding injuries requires a relatively easy proactive approach. The following are the most important safety essentials for commercial contractors to employ. 

Access Ladders

Providing safe access to the roof and any subsequent elevation changes is key to keeping employees safe. OSHA requires a ladder or stairs for any break in elevation of 19 inches or more. And even when scaffolding is available, it’s safer to use a ladder for roof access. They attach to the roofing decks above and below, and often to the side of the building itself, providing multiple points of contact. 

Flag Lines, Safety Railings, and Safety Net Systems

One of the unfortunate truths about commercial roofing is that the edge of the building can quickly sneak up on a roofer, causing a potential accident. However commercial roofing companies can avoid this by installing flag lines 6 feet in from the edge of the building. These safety measures provide a reminder that the edge is near without being too late for the roofer to stop their motion.

Similarly, safety railings installed around the perimeter of the roof help keep roofers and other folks accessing the roof safe. OSHA requires that the tops of guardrail systems be 39 to 45 inches above the walking surface and that the rail can withstand 200 pounds of outward force applied within 2 inches from the top of the railing.

Another potential option is to install safety nets below the work surface. OSHA requires that the safety net be no lower than 30 feet from the roof deck and have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds.

Hatch Rails

OSHA requires that buildings with roof hatches within 10 feet of the roof’s edge have hatch railings installed around them. They must be permanently affixed and sturdy, as their role is to prevent accidental slips and trips, as well as keep fallen roofers from traveling through the roof deck. 

Personal Fall Arrest Systems

Personal fall arrest systems include anchors, full-body harnesses, lifelines, and lanyards, and their purpose is to control a roofer’s fall. Fall protection systems are an OSHA requirement for any employee walking on or working on any surface with an unprotected side or edge 6 feet or more from the ground.

Proper Safety Equipment

Fall protection equipment doesn’t solve every safety risk, so roofers have other PPE (personal protective equipment) needs. Safety measures like hard hats, hearing and eye protection, respirators, work boots, hi-vis clothing, and other safety equipment are key to preventing injury—even those unrelated to falling. 

Proper Training 

All of the safety equipment, railings, and preparation in the world won’t matter if the crew hasn’t been properly trained on how to use them. In fact, it’s so important that OSHA requires specific training on fall protection, construction safety, hazardous materials, PPE, ladder safety, heat illness, and general safety programs. 

Contractors have to provide these trainings to their employees to ensure they know how to operate safely while performing their duties. 

Weather Awareness

Keeping an eye on the weather and rooftop conditions plays an important role in employee safety. Ensuring that teams are taking breaks and drinking plenty of water on hot days will help prevent heat stroke and dehydration. Also, shutting the project down during unsafe winter conditions will reduce the chance of a weather-related slip or other dangers.

Two roofers wearing fall protection surveying a commercial roof

Commercial Roofing Safety Checklist

The following checklist will help roofers assess their projects to ensure they’re as safe as possible for their employees:

  • Identify safe roof access via elevators, stairs, ladders or hatches. If none:
    • Install ladders
  • Ensure all sides of the building have protected edges. If not:
    • Install permanent safety guardrails
    • Install flag lines and supply fall protection systems
  • Identify electrical hazards such as power and service lines
  • Identify how to safely transport materials to the roofing deck. If none:
    • Consider cranes or lifts
  • Identify a safe area to store materials
  • Ensure safe and easy access to debris receptacles
  • Ensure that required roof hatches and skylights have railings or screens installed. If not:
    • Install hatch railings around the hatches
    • Install fall screens over skylights
  • Visibly designate and mark usable, safe walkways
  • Identify and mark trip hazards such as pipes, tanks, or other equipment
  • Verify that everyone on the project has fall protection, personal protective equipment, and the knowledge and training to use them safely
  • Install the necessary and required signage according to local regulations and OSHA
  • Verify roof conditions are suitable for work:
    • Supply the crew with plenty of drinking water
    • Consider shutting the roofing job down when it’s too hot or too cold for safe work
  • Ensure communication protocols are in place in the event of an emergency
  • Develop a site-specific rescue plan for fall emergencies
  • Brief before the project starts to ensure that all employees are aware of these safety protocols

Safety is Our Priority

AAA Roofing prides itself on its safety-minded approach to commercial roofing. If you have a commercial roofing installation or replacement project coming up but want to ensure you put it in the hands of a safe contractor, give us a call. We ensure that all of our employees have the equipment, training, and support they need to feel valued and work safely. We’ll treat you and your project the same way. Call today.