A Few Safety Tips to Keep in Mind When on a Flat Roof
You may think that working on a flat roof is safer than working on a sloped one — after all, gravity is working against you on a sloped surface! Not so fast. Tradespeople tasked with working on a flat roof face more danger than you might think. Greater heights, heavy equipment hazards, and electrical equipment are just a few of the safety challenges workers face when performing repairs or other tasks on a flat roof.
Although a fall is considered the greatest danger when working on any roof, it’s especially threatening on a commercial flat roof since they often top multiple-story buildings. A fall from such a height is likely to be fatal, so workers need to take extra precautions. Because the slope on a flat roof is so slight, it’s easy to feel overconfident when moving about, but failing to be aware of the danger of falling at all times could be the last mistake you’ll ever make!
Flat roofs usually — but not always — have parapets (low walls around the edges of the roof). These should be at least 42″ high, but some are lower and don’t offer much protection. It’s wise to act as though they’re not there at all and take other precautions to prevent a fall such as
- running safety tape to indicate safe pathways on which to walk
- using personal safety devices such as harnesses
- erecting guardrails strong enough to support 200 lbs. of weight
- erecting a barrier around roof hatches or other openings
Be Aware of Tripping Hazards
Any debris that’s on a roof is a tripping hazard, as are the edges of skylights and other rooftop mechanical equipment. Make keeping your flat roof free of debris part of your regular roof maintenance program. Safety tape can be used to mark the edges of skylights, and other rooftop obstacles to help draw attention to them and help prevent tripping accidents.
Be Vigilant About Electrical Wires
It can be all to easy to come into contact with electrical wires when hoisting ladders or other equipment on a flat roof. Make sure workers wear EH-rated non-conductive footwear when working near electrical hazards.
Be Prepared for the Weather
Flat roofs can be extremely hot in summer or in warm-weather climates, so anybody working on or inspecting a flat roof should remember to stay hydrated to avoid heat exhaustion. Wear appropriate accessories such as a hard hat with a visor and sunglasses or safety glasses with UV protection.
Conversely, a flat roof in winter is hazardous because workers are more exposed to harsh winds — including gusts — that make walking difficult and treacherous. Again, wearing clothing that’s weather appropriate is essential. Sunglasses are a winter necessity too since glare is often a real problem, especially if there’s snow cover reflecting the sun’s rays.
General Safety Guidelines
There are some common-sense precautions to take when working on a flat roof that all workers accessing the roof should know:
- Always watch out for the safety of co-workers.
- Never turn your back to the roof’s edge.
- Post a notice to inform workers where they can access an emergency medical kit if needed.
- Make sure that workers know how to get medical help quickly if needed.
- Get your policies and procedures “on the books”, so that contractors have safety information relevant to your flat roof.
Even though outside contractors working on your flat roof are insured, it’s still important for an owner to provide due diligence and ensure that anyone accessing the roof is aware of your company’s standard safety procedures. It’s a good idea to create a check-in, check-out system and provide outside contractors with an escort to familiarize them with your flat roof before they begin their work on it.
As a contributor to the roofing trade, RoofSlope is concerned about the safety and well-being of contractors or employees applying their unique, auxiliary sloping product designed to eliminate ponding problems on flat roofs across the U.S. Please feel free to contact us to learn more about our cost-effective, easy to apply solution to low spots on your commercial flat roof.