Walking safely on a steep roof is a skill that professional roofers acquire with time and experience. Roofing is a dangerous job, and even skilled professionals must exercise caution and take the appropriate safety measures when walking on roofs, especially those of a steep pitch.
Safety on a steep roof begins before a roofer even leaves the ground. Preparing beforehand for the climb and the work on the roof is critical to an accident-free job site. Roofers must use common sense, along with safety equipment, to get the job done.
There’s so much more to know with regards to walking safely on steep roofs. Let’s check out our 17 tips roofers use to walk safely on steep roofs:
1. Assess Weather Conditions
Assessing the weather before beginning any work is critical. You should never carry out roofing work during inclement weather.
You should avoid working in high winds, snow, or rain due to these conditions’ apparent dangers to a roofer. It is best to wait for a dry day with low to no wind.
2. Assess Roof Condition
Before climbing up, you should assess for ice, snow, or even wetness that occurred before the designated workday.
Try observing the roof’s condition from the ground, with binoculars, or even by utilizing the help of a drone and camera.
Even morning condensation can be hazardous for walking on a steep roof, so it is best to schedule the work for a late, sunny morning or the afternoon so that any moisture has a chance to dry up.
3. Wear Appropriate Clothing and Footwear
When walking on a steep roof, it’s extremely important to wear the proper clothing. Loose-fitting clothing that allows for the maximum amount of flexibility and movement is the best choice. Tight-fitting clothing that will inhibit your activity on the roof may cause a fall.
Rubber-soled boots or shoes are recommended for footwear when walking on a steep roof. A soft rubber sole with a thick tread helps ensure a good grip on the roof’s shingles.
Roofers recommend wearing rubber-soled footwear even if the roof is dry and stress the importance of keeping the soles clear of mud and debris.
For roofers who want to take their footwear to the next level, boots such as those made by Cougar Paws are great. These boots feature unique grip technology in the form of thick felt soles that attach to the bottom of their boots. They cost around $180.00 and offer an extra-strong grip on steep roof surfaces. You can buy the felt pads separately for about $24.00 per pair.
4. Use a Roof Harness
Wearing a safety harness is recommended for walking on a steep roof. Even a seasoned professional can slip and risk serious injury, especially on a steep roof.
A roof harness typically comes as part of a system and costs around $300.00. The system includes a rope, roof anchor, harness, and lanyard for adjusting the tension of the rope.
You secure the anchor by installing lag bolts into the rafters. It is best to install the anchor right above the area you are working and never further away than four to six feet on either side. You must move the anchor as you change locations.
The purpose of the lanyard is to maintain the tension of the rope as you change position.
It is essential to inspect your harness system for any signs of wear and tear before using it. If there is any fraying on the rope, you should replace it before use.
If you drop your harness system from a great height (hopefully with nobody in it), you should never use it again unless it is inspected and given the go-ahead from the manufacturer.
5. Use the Correct Size of Ladder
When climbing a steep roof, you will need a strong extension ladder that extends a minimum of 3 feet past the eaves.
The extra 3 feet of ladder helps to ensure that the climber will not miss a rung while stepping off the ladder onto the roof or the ladder when descending.
When possible, set the ladder on firm ground. If this isn’t possible, use pieces of wood to create a level foundation for the ladder.
It is a good idea to secure the bottom of the ladder to the foundation. Additionally, you should fasten the top of the ladder to the eaves or another secure spot.
6. Avoid Climbing Near a Power Line
Try at all costs to avoid placing your ladder near a power line. The potential dangers of this situation are obvious, especially if your ladder is made out of aluminum, a conductor of electrical current. If you must climb near a power line, it is best to use a wooden ladder.
7. Always Have Another Person Present
It is best practice to have another person around when you are going to walk on a steep roof. They can serve as extra reinforcement for the ladder by helping to hold it in place and observing if it starts to move or slip.
In the unfortunate event of a fall, having another person present is critical. The chances are good that you will sustain significant injuries if you fall off a steep roof. Having someone there to administer first aid and call for help could be lifesaving.
8. Alert People on the Ground
When working on a steep roof, it is a good idea to indicate to people on the ground that you are up there. You can mark off an area on the ground around your ladder with rope or pylons and place a warning sign for work overhead near the site as well.
If you need to throw something to the ground, make sure no one is standing below your work site.
9. Secure Your Tools
When it comes to keeping your tools safely on the roof, roofers recommend using a 5-gallon bucket for hand tools. Installing a roof bracket (roof jack) and then hanging your bucket of tools on that is an excellent way to keep tools organized and on the roof.
If you are using power tools, it is best to secure them to the roof with rope or bungee cords while you are not actively using them. Any extension cords or ropes should be placed out of the way to avoid tripping on them.
10. Correct Body Position While Walking up a Steep Roof
Once you are on the roof, you will have to position your body correctly to walk up the slope.
Leaning your body toward the slope in a forward position will help you keep your balance. The steeper the pitch, the more you will have to lean forward.
Once you have almost reached the top of the ridge of the roof, you can turn and walk slowly sideways, bringing your feet together with each step.
11. Walk With Your Arms Out
Professional roofer Eric Garcia recommends holding your arms out on either side of your body when walking across the ridge of a steep roof.
Similar to the position a tight-rope walker uses, holding your arms out either side will help you keep your balance. Of course, you should do this in combination with wearing a safety harness.
12. Clear Debris Out of Your Path
Once you are harnessed and on the roof, clear yourself a path to walk. As you make your way around the roof, use a broom to sweep away any leaves, twigs, or other debris that have accumulated in your working area.
Wet debris from nearby trees can cause slippery walking conditions. Once you have swept away any debris, make sure the now exposed roof has a chance to dry before walking on it. Even though it may appear to be dry, the roof’s surface may still be slippery.
13. Avoid Stepping on Moss
Many older houses or houses located in areas with ample precipitation are prone to mp on the roof. Moss traps moisture and can be slippery, thus causing a potential hazard for walking on a steep roof.
Depending on the location and amount of moss, you will want to avoid walking on it or, at the very least, carefully test the situation by stepping on some at the lowest point possible.
The best and safest solution to moss on a steep roof is to have it removed by a professional before working in that location.
14. Watch Out for Structural Issues
The best clue to visually identifying structural issues with the roof’s surface is to look for anomalies in its appearance.
For example, you should avoid areas that appear darker than the rest of the roof or are dipping or sagging. These clues could indicate water damage on the roof that has created weak spots, something you want to avoid while walking on a steep roof.
15. Use a Roof Jack
Roof jacks are a valuable piece of equipment for roofers, especially when working on a steep roof. They consist of a plank that is secured to the roof using metal jacks. The jacks’ base slides under the shingles layer and is attached to the rafters using 2 ½ to 3-inch nails.
Roof jacks are available at hardware or home improvement stores for $15 – $20 and can be used with 2×8 inch wooden planks.
Once installed, this apparatus provides a safe and solid surface for you to stand and walk on while working on the roof.
They are also easy to install and remove to different locations as you complete your work.
16. Use a Roof Ladder
Roof ladders are another piece of equipment that roofers use to navigate a steep roof.
They are essentially extension ladders with metal hooks at the end, allowing you to anchor them over the roof’s ridge securely.
Ladders explicitly designed for roofing can be costly ($700 – $1200), and you may require several ladders depending on the size of your roof. Fortunately, you can make your own using wood (2×4’s) and metal hooks.
Always securely anchor the hooks at the ridge, and if possible, use an additional, alternate way to attach the ladder to the roof.
Given that you’re using the ladder on the roof ensure that it’s properly anchored at the hook before you climb the ladder. If there’s another way you can anchor it, such as using a piece of rope, do that as well.
17. Descend the Roof Properly
Once you are done with the job or at least done for the day, it’s time to get off the roof. A good tip for descending a steep roof is to walk down a valley whenever possible. The valley is where two parts of the roof form an aperture. Walking down the middle of the roof is more hazardous.
Another tip for descending safely from a steep roof is to reverse your body from your position to climb up the roof. Leaning back against the pull of gravity on your way down to the edge of the roof will allow you to balance better.
There are many aspects to consider when it comes to safely walking on a steep roof.
Preparation is critical to having a successful and injury-free job. It’s essential to consider the weather and surface conditions before commencing any work. Wearing the correct clothing and footwear for the task is also very important.
Knowing how to maneuver on a steep slope and utilizing safety equipment are also essential factors relating to safety on a steeply pitched roof.
Many roofers claim that the most crucial tip for walking on a steep roof is to use common sense.
Always have another person on site to help and observe and let others in the area know that you are up there working. Never work in conditions beyond your ability to do a job safely, and always use a properly secured safety harness while walking on a steep roof.