Simple tips to keep safe when you're up on the roof

October 14, 2014

If you are getting involved in do-it-yourself roof repair, remember it’s a long way to the ground. Here are tips for staying safe.
If you are going to do your own roof repairs and maintenance, keep in mind that a fall could seriously hurt or kill you. Statistics show that at least six people a month die in the United States because of falls from the roof.

Add to that power tools and heavy loads taken up on high, and you have a compelling argument to make safety your first and last consideration.
Clear the working area
Make sure the working area is clean and well-organized, as well as blocked off, so children and other passersbyers don’t wander into danger. Rope or mark off the ground immediately beneath your work area to let people below know you’re working above. Always check and call out before dropping anything down.

For your own protection, you should clearly identify and keep away from hazards such as power lines and parts of the roof with precarious pitches.
You don’t need a stairway to heaven
OK, the ladder’s the thing you need to get onto the roof, so give a lot of thought to your choice of ladder and how you handle it. A sturdy aluminum extension ladder is good (make sure it reaches high enough, of course), but a fiberglass or wooden one provides better protection against electrocution if you accidentally come up against, or even near, a power line.
Safe setup and use
When setting up the ladder, make sure:

  • You rest it on level ground.
  • If not on level ground, even out the ladder by putting squares of plywood under one leg, and securing it with rope or wires tied to stakes.
  • Fasten the top of the ladder with a rope or wire to an anchoring point, like a nail driven into a rafter.
  • Extend the ladder at least a metre above the edge of the roof, so you have something to hold onto as you dismount.

It’s best to avoid carrying anything up the ladder, if you can. A helper, and a bucket tied to a rope to hoist up tools and supplies, are your best friends.
When on the roof
To stay safe when working high up, you should:

  • Wear shoes with soft rubber soles for traction.
  • Keep the roof swept clear of dirt and debris.
  • Secure power tools with short lengths of rope, and familiarize yourself with their safe operation.
  • Wear eye protection when using a hammer or power tools.
  • Cut away from yourself if using a utility knife.
  • Avoid working in extreme hot or cold weather, because shingles are easier to damage and might not lie or seal properly.

For extra safety, especially if you are going to spend a lot of time on the roof, you might consider installing roof brackets (providing a safe place to stand and leave tools) and buying a safety harness.
Also watch out for...
Wet roofs are slippery and dangerous, so don’t go up after a rain. Ditto if it’s windy. Slate and tile roofs are not only easy to damage walking on them, they pose a falling risk if a tile breaks or comes out. Also, if the roof is too steep or high, or if you don’t feel confident tackling the job, then leave the work to professionals.

It’s not worth risking life and limb to save a few bucks.

Simple tips to keep safe when you're up on the roof
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