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Last Modified: May 2, 2023

Roofing safety is an important topic in the trade — and for good reason. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports roofing as the trade with the highest fatality rate of all construction trades and the 4th highest of all occupations. Despite common perceptions, roofing is more dangerous than other professions such as electricians or trench workers.

This article examines the reasons behind the high danger level i and explores ways everyone can help improve roofing safety.

How to Determine Risk Levels in Construction

Construction hazard risk levels are evaluated based on two components, the probability of its occurrence and the severity of a resulting injury. With this information, the chart below can be used to determine the level of risk.

Roofers are known to have a high exposure risk to falls, placing them in row D. Falls are also the leading cause of death in construction, putting roofers in column 4.

Risk Evaluation Chart

(Image source: IHSA)

That puts the roofing profession in the bottom right corner of the chart, at the highest level of risk possible.

However, ironworkers also work at heights and even more around leading edges. They, too, are in the highest risk category, yet their fatality rate is half that of roofing.

The difference between the two trades is in the control measures they use, or more accurately, don’t use. Any trade in the high-risk category should be implementing the highest level of controls to mitigate those hazards.

What Are High-Level Fall Protection Controls?

According to OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.501, every time an employee is working higher than six feet, they must use some form of fall protection. In short, that means roofing contractors need to:

  • Provide and ensure workers wear proper personal fall arrest systems
  • Set up adequate anchor points to tie off to
  • Set up guardrails or warning lines when applicable
  • Train employees on how to use the safety equipment and safe work practices

Despite the clear guidelines, the number one most frequently cited OSHA standard is lack of fall protection. It is one of the highest risks and very often goes completely uncontrolled.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a study on the effect of personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) on falls in construction. Here are three of their key findings:

  1. 54% of workers who fell were not provided access to PFAS by their employers
  2. 23% of workers who fell had access to a PFAS but chose not to wear one
  3. Lack of access was highest among residential roofing, siding and sheet metal contractors at 70%

These statistics indicate that the majority of fall-related deaths are preventable. Roofers should be the most safety-conscious trade, but this is often not the case.

Why Don’t Companies Use Roofing Safety?

In the construction safety industry, there are numerous excuses for why safety measures aren’t in place. For roofing companies, the main reason tends to be time constraints.

Roofing crews (particularly residential) often work on more than one project a day. Each project requires a safety setup, regardless of its size. Sometimes, the safety configuration takes longer than the job itself.

Additionally, the roofing industry (especially residential) is highly competitive, driving prices down. Lower income means companies need to keep costs low to make a profit. The most common tactic for maintaining low costs is to increase production over less time. Less time for completing projects means corners are cut, and since safety requires ‘extra’ time, it is often the first to go.

How to Help Stop Construction Fall Fatalities

Everybody can do their part to fix this problem and save lives.

Contractors:

Workers:

  • Use the PFAS’s they are provided
  • Leave a company that refuses to provide them

General Public:

  • Make informed decisions to hire professional companies
  • Ensure the company you hire utilizes high-level safety controls
  • Recognize that the cheapest contractor is not likely the safest

How SafetyHQ Can Improve Roofing Safety

SafetyHQ offers roofing-specific toolbox talks in its library, which is one reason why SafetyHQ is the number one safety app used by roofers. By providing easy access to safety resources and promoting a culture of safety, the app aims to help reduce the number of accidents and fatalities in the roofing industry.

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