In the construction industry, falls from heights continue to be the leading cause of serious injury and death - despite government regulations and the severe penalties that can be faced by companies who do not observe them. Of the deaths that take place on construction sites, it has been estimated that falls from rooftops constitute at least a third. Unfortunately, safety when working on roofs continues to be an ongoing issue that causes avoidable deaths. 

Workers on rooftops encounter a number of serious hazards including inclement weather, extreme heat or cold, proximity to electrical wiring, excessive noise and dangerous substances, and hazards relating to the use of various tools. Given these dangers, it is the responsibility of workers to handle themselves properly but ultimately the employer and property owner must take responsibility for controlling these hazards as best as they can and implementing the appropriate safety measures. 

The following information is an OSHA compliant roofing safety checklist and guide to support basic safety measures for workers on rooftops. 

Training and Safety Checklist

It is important that employers ensure all workers are adequately trained and equipped to handle common rooftop hazards.  Every roofing job site necessitates a comprehensive safety checklist. When providing safety training, the following questions should be asked:

  • Has roofing safety training, or Working at Heights training (for Ontario) been provided in a language that workers understand?
  • Has fall protection training been provided to all workers who regularly encounter fall risks?
  • Are workers trained in the recognition and handling of all hazards specific to the job site?
  • Are workers trained in the appropriate handling of ladders, tools, and fall protection equipment that will be used on the job site?
  • Has the employer developed a plan that incorporates the correct equipment and materials necessary to accomplish the job safely? 
  • Do employers and workers understand OSHA requirements for fall protection, and is worker training compliant with these requirements? 

Fall Protection Checklist

Workers on rooftops who are working at heights of six feet or higher from a lower level face an increased fall risk, some companies even recognize 4’ as a height where protective measures have to be taken. Inadequate fall protection measures have caused too many avoidable injuries and deaths.  To maintain safety when working on rooftops, it is important to observe the following criteria:

  • Workers must receive proper roofing safety training which includes the recognition of fall hazards, plan of action in the case of a fall, and the use and maintenance of fall protection equipment
  • Retraining becomes necessary when fall protection equipment is changed, when worker performance requires it, or when work conditions change. Local standards as well may dictate the intervals for training updates
  • Employers are required to provide workers with an appropriate personal fall arrest system when they are working at heights of six feet or higher from a lower level
  • A personal fall arrest system constitutes an anchor point, a full-body harness, and a lanyard or lifeline. This would be an active fall arrest system. Another option is to use guardrails, which would be a passive fall protection system.
  • When wearing a personal fall arrest system, workers must ensure the harness is snug and that the D-ring attachment is centred between the worker’s shoulder blades
  • The anchor point for a personal fall arrest system must be capable of supporting 5,000 pounds per worker
  • Personal fall arrest systems that have endured a fall must be removed from service until thorough inspection has been carried out to check for any damage
  • An employer is required to calculate the fall clearance distance and the possibility of a swing-fall hazard to ensure that workers will not come in contact with the lower level or surrounding objects or surfaces if they do fall
  • The total fall distance should be calculated to include the distance a worker would fall before their personal fall arrest system would decelerate the fall (must be six feet or less) and the distance that a lifeline would stretch to fully arrest the fall (must be less than 3.5 feet)

Guardrails Checklist

Guardrail systems designed for working on roofs are an additional passive safety measure that can be used to protect workers. Guardrails are used around openings on roofs and around the perimeter to help avoid falls. There are a number of commercial options for guardrails, including temporary rails that can be attached to rafters on a building or elsewhere and taken down once a job is completed. 

OSHA requires the following for guardrails:

  • The top rails must be 39 to 45 inches above the working surface
  • In the absence of a wall at least 21 inches high, midrails or screens must also be installed
  • Guardrails must be able to hold up against a 200 pound force within two inches of its top edge from any direction. Canadian standards are a 225 pound force.
  • Midrails and screens must be able to withstand a 150 pound force from any direction
  • All guardrail systems must be properly surfaced to prevent lacerations and snags

Understanding and observing safety measures for working on roofs is a comprehensive undertaking.  The risk of injury and death that workers on rooftops face every day can be addressed if employers, supervisors and workers receive appropriate roofing safety training and choose to observe the regulations that OSHA has laid out for worker protection.

Continue to Roof Work Safety Checklist - Part Two