Staying Safe While Working on Roofs and Scaffolds: A Guide to Fall Protection and Hazard Avoidance



Working at heights on roofs and scaffolds poses significant risks and hazards. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, falls are the leading cause of death in construction, accounting for over 300 fatalities every year. It is crucial for roofing professionals to prioritize safety and follow proper protocols when working at elevated heights.

There are many potential hazards when working on rooftops and scaffolds such as falls, falling objects, hazardous substances, and weather-related dangers. Proper training, use of fall protection, inspection of equipment, and safe work practices can help mitigate these risks. The roofing industry has made improvements in safety, but there is still room for progress. This article will provide an overview of the common hazards, safety standards, training requirements, equipment inspections, PPE, and best practices for guaranteeing safety when working at heights.

Fall Hazards

Falls are the leading cause of injuries and fatalities among construction workers, especially those working at heights on rooftops, ladders, and scaffolds . According to OSHA, falls account for over 300 deaths and more than 10,000 injuries in construction annually. Falls from elevation can occur due to a variety of factors like unstable working surfaces, improper use of ladders, lack of fall protection, and more. Some common types of falls include:

  • Falls through skylights or openings in roofs
  • Falls from the edges of roofs
  • Falls from ladders that slip or break
  • Falls through floor openings or leading edges
  • Falls from scaffolds that collapse or don't have adequate railings

These falls from rooftops, ladders, and scaffolds can often be fatal. According to the CDC, over 80% of construction worker deaths from falls happen from heights of 20 feet or less. Serious injuries like traumatic brain injuries, hip fractures, and spinal cord injuries are also common. Implementing proper fall protection measures is crucial.

Hazardous Materials

Working on rooftops can expose workers to hazardous substances like asbestos, lead, and toxic fumes. Asbestos was commonly used in older roofing materials and can release toxic particles when disturbed. According to the Roofing Magazine, asbestos exposure is the leading cause of work-related deaths. Lead-based paints were also commonly used on older roofs. When sanded or scraped, lead particles can be inhaled. Various sealants, adhesives, and coatings used in roofing contain volatile organic compounds that release toxic fumes.

It's critical to identify any hazardous materials present before starting roof work. Many jurisdictions require testing for asbestos. Proper respiratory protection like respirators and ventilation should be used when exposure can't be avoided. Safe handling procedures must be followed, like wetting asbestos before removal to minimize airborne particles. Proper disposal of hazardous waste is also essential. Understanding the risks through training and implementing protection measures is key to minimizing exposure.

Weather Conditions

Working on rooftops and scaffolds exposes workers to various weather hazards that can compromise safety. Checking weather forecasts and being prepared is crucial. According to Stay Dry Roofing, even normal weather can damage roofs. Three main weather conditions to watch out for are lightning, high winds, and rain.

Lightning poses an electrocution risk to workers on rooftops and metal scaffolds. It's critical to stop work and take shelter during lightning storms. The National Weather Service advises waiting 30 minutes after the last lightning strike before resuming work.

High winds can blow workers off balance and topple ladders and scaffolding. Gusts over 40 mph make rooftop work unsafe. Winds also blow debris that can strike and injure workers. Planning tasks around wind forecasts and securing equipment can mitigate risks.

Rain leads to slippery conditions on roofs and scaffolds. It also makes materials like plywood and roofing paper hazardous to stand and work on. Fitz Roofing recommends avoiding rooftop work during rainy conditions or using slip-resistant footwear. Precipitation can also damage roof coverings over time.

Overall, monitoring weather reports, rescheduling high-risk tasks, and preparing equipment are key to staying safe. Don't ignore hazardous weather forecasts when working at heights.

Training and Certification

Working on roofs and scaffolds requires proper training and certification to ensure safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has standards and regulations that govern training requirements in the roofing industry.

OSHA requires a competent person to be designated for roofing work. This competent person must have training in multiple areas like recognizing hazards, materials handling, use of fall protection, and more. For certain class II roofing work, OSHA mandates a 5-day training course.

Beyond OSHA, there are many training programs and certifications available in the roofing industry to equip workers with the right skills and knowledge. Associations like National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) offer training courses and credentials. Training topics include fall protection, first aid, ladder safety, personal protective equipment, and more.

It's critical that roofing professionals complete all required training and maintain active certifications. Proper training helps prevent injuries and ensures a safe working environment when on roofs and scaffolds.

Inspecting Equipment

Before starting any work on roofs or scaffolds, it is crucial to thoroughly inspect all equipment to identify any issues or defects. Pay particular attention to ladders, harnesses, anchors, and other fall protection gear.

Ladders should be checked for any loose or missing rungs, corrosion, cracks, or other damage. Make sure ladders have slip-resistant feet and are the proper length for the task.

All harnesses, lanyards, ropes, carabiners, and anchors used for fall arrest systems need to be examined. Look for fraying, cuts, or tears in the material. Make sure all buckles, clips, rings and hooks are functioning properly.

Anchors must be correctly installed and rated for the forces generated during a fall. Bolts should be tight and secure. No cracks or damage should be visible on anchor points.

Conduct routine inspections before and after each use. Immediately remove any defective equipment from service. Proper inspection helps identify issues early and prevents accidents.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential for staying safe while working on roofs and scaffolds. According to OSHA, employers must provide necessary PPE for roofing work due to the hazards involved. Some key PPE includes:

Hard Hats: Hard hats protect the head from falling objects and electrical hazards. They should be worn at all times when working at heights.

Harnesses: A properly fitted full-body harness is crucial for fall protection. It should be inspected before each use and worn with a shock-absorbing lanyard or retractable lifeline.

Gloves: Cut-resistant gloves protect the hands from sharp edges and materials. Rubber gloves provide insulation when handling electric tools and equipment.

Proper use and regular inspection of PPE is vital. Equipment should be checked for damage before each use and replaced as needed. Employers must train workers on selecting, inspecting, and utilizing PPE correctly.

Fall Protection Systems

There are various types of fall protection systems designed to prevent and arrest falls when working at heights. Some of the most common and effective systems include:


Guardrails provide a barrier around the edges of elevated work areas to prevent workers from falling off. They should have a top rail, mid rail, and toe board. Guardrails need to be properly installed and maintained as per OSHA standards.

Safety Nets

Safety nets provide a last line of defense to catch workers in case of a fall. They should be hung as close to the walking/working surface as possible. Nets should be inspected regularly and drop-tested to ensure adequacy.


Anchors provide fixed attachment points to connect lifelines, lanyards or deceleration devices. Anchors must be capable of supporting a minimum load of 5,000 lbs. They need to be correctly installed and placed for easy access.

Working on Metal Roofs

Metal roofs present unique hazards due to their slippery and reflective surfaces. Proper footwear with slip-resistant soles is essential when working on metal roofs to prevent falls. Rubber-soled work boots provide better traction and allow workers to walk securely on the roof.

Metal roofing can become extremely slippery when wet or covered in moisture, frost, ice, or snow. Extra caution should be taken when working on metal roofs in rainy, icy, or snowy weather conditions. Non-slip footwear enhance traction and stability.

In addition to footwear, installing temporary walkways, toe boards, or roof ladders can improve stability and prevent slips or falls when moving around on metal roofs. Utilizing temporary walkways or roof ladders allows workers to safely traverse from one area to another.

Proper footwear and installing aids like toe boards and temporary walkways are vital safety measures when working on metal roofing. Employers must provide the right protective gear and equipment to eliminate slip and fall hazards prevalent on metal roofs.


In conclusion, working safely on roofs and scaffolds requires vigilance and planning. As discussed, falls are the leading cause of fatalities, so utilizing proper fall arrest and protection systems is crucial. Thorough evaluation of risks, adequate training, routine equipment inspections, and proper use of PPE can help mitigate hazards. Key takeaways include:

  • Identify and minimize exposure to hazardous materials like asbestos and lead
  • Follow all applicable safety regulations and standards for your region
  • Inspect all equipment and tools before use to check for defects
  • Wear suitable PPE like harnesses, helmets, gloves and protective clothing
  • Install anchor points, guardrails and utilize fall arrest systems properly
  • Take extreme care when working on metal roofs which can be slippery

By making safety the top priority and utilizing best practices, roofing professionals can greatly reduce risks and prevent tragic accidents. Lives depend on working cautiously at heights. Be sure to put safety first and take the time to do the job right.

Working at heights on roofs and scaffolds comes with significant risks, but by prioritizing safety and following the proper protocols, these hazards can be mitigated.

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