Heads up! It’s roofing season!

Roofing is a dangerous business. Whether a commercial or residential building, no matter how tall that building is, there’s always a risk that a roofer could fall and be seriously injured or killed. 

Plus, roofs aren’t designed to manage a lot of foot traffic. So, while inspecting roofs and making repairs or completely replacing them is necessary, roofers must strike a delicate balancing act when walking on any roof.

Of note, OHS Canada reported recently an Ontario-based roofing company was fined $110,000 by the Ontario Court of Justice after one of its workers who was not wearing fall protection gear fell from a roof while working and died in 2021. None of the five workers at the jobsite were wearing fall protection, nor were there guardrails or barriers around the roof perimeter of the building.

Roofing contractors repairing a roof.

With that in mind, here are 10 essential safety tips for roofing companies and their crews before setting foot on any roof to do the important work they do:

1. Wear the Right Gear

It’s essential to wear flexible, comfortable clothing that doesn’t restrict your movement or drapes off your body. Don’t wear ripped clothing to avoid being snagged by a nail or any material on the roof. Invest in quality slip-proof, steel-toe boots, safety gloves, eye protection, and always wear a Canadian Safety Association-approved helmet or hard hat.

2. Be Aware of the Forecast

Roofing is hazardous work, but attempting to repair a roof in inclement or cold weather ups the ante significantly. Avoid roofing whenever the weather takes a turn (or is forecast to be unpleasant). Attempting to repair a roof in cold weather raises the risk of slips and falls, while rain and howling wind can send anyone for a tumble.

3. Always Wear a Harness

Only climb a ladder or go topside if you wear a roof safety harness attached to safety ropes or lanyards that connect your harness to the anchorage. 

A harness is the one piece of safety equipment that can prevent you from plunging to the ground and suffering a serious injury. Safety regulations may vary by province, but in most provinces, it’s a requirement for a roofer to wear a “fall arrest system” if working at a height of three meters or more and there’s no guardrail installed, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

4. Secure Your Ladder

Ensure the ladders you use are placed on a flat surface at a safe angle (use a 4:1 ratio; for every four feet up, the ladder should be one foot away from the building) and have a spotter holding the base of the ladder. Don’t use a damaged ladder; ensure it’s free of slippery material on the rungs. Generally, using guardrails for every job provides workers with a physical and visual barrier to prevent them from falling.

5. Clear the Roof of Debris

Put on gloves and clear off debris such as leaves, twigs, or snow. If necessary, hose the roof off and let it dry before starting work.

6. Be Mindful of Electrical Hazards

Look up and around to ensure no power lines are crisscrossing your work environment. If there are, call the local power utility company and seek their help before proceeding. If avoiding a power line is impossible, avoid touching those lines and use a wooden or fibreglass ladder instead of a metal one to access the roof.

7. Take It Slow and Steady

Repairing or replacing a roof takes focus, time, and effort. It’s not a rush job. So, take your time at every stage and work cautiously, methodically, and never work alone. 

Always exercise caution when using a tool like a pneumatic nail gun. Don’t point it at anyone. Only pull the trigger when the nail gun is pressed against the shingles you are installing. Be sure to disconnect the gun’s air supply and turn it off as soon as you’re done using it.

8. Be Careful with Torch-Applied Roofing

Using torches when heat sealing a roof ups the safety stakes considerably. Torches can reach temperatures of 1093 degrees Celsius or more. Never leave ignited torches unattended, use only approved high-pressure hoses, designate one worker responsible for fire monitoring, and have a dry chemical fire extinguisher within reach. 

The Infrastructure Health and Safety Association of Ontario also advises ceasing torching activities at least three hours before the end of a workday, inspecting the roof for hot spots using an infrared thermometer after work is done, and inspecting the building’s interior before leaving the worksite.

9. Check Your Insurance Policy

Ensuring you have roofing insurance before embarking on any project is imperative. Different types of policies are available for the kind of roofing services you provide. For example, a shingle policy doesn’t cover flat roofs and cold applications.

Roofing insurance provides financial support if you are sued by a client or other third party for bodily injury or property damage. If you’re a roofing business owner with a hired crew, consider adding employers’ liability insurance to your policy to complement the coverage your provincial workers’ compensation board provides.

Although it is not a legal requirement for a roofing contractor to carry insurance, most property owners will expect you to have a policy and show a certificate of insurance.

10. Hold a Team Huddle Before and After Work

Before starting work each day, pull your team together to discuss what everyone’s responsibilities are and ensure they’re all on the same page. Talk about individual assignments for the job at hand, safety requirements, check all equipment before starting, and ensure all safety precautions are met. 

Hold another quick team meeting at the end of the workday to ensure everything has been shut down correctly and securely stored. Discuss what progress was made, address any safety concerns your team has, and talk about what the next steps in the project will be.

Protect Your Roofing Business With Insurance

Fill out an online application for a free quote for your roofing insurance needs from Zensurance. 

Our licensed brokers will shop our partner network of more than 50 leading Canadian insurance companies to get you the customized policy you need at an affordable price.

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About the Author: Aharshan Thangarasa

Aharshan Thangarasa is a licensed commercial insurance broker and Team Lead, Contractors, at Zensurance.