How Do You Secure Yourself When Working on a Roof?

As a homeowner, every now and again you may need to go up onto your roof—to check for storm damage or to clear away twigs, leaves, and light debris, for example. Occasionally, minor repairs may be required. Generally speaking, it’s preferable to get a professional roofer in for any maintenance work on your roof. However, if you have DIY skills, are confident working at a height, and have appropriate roof safety equipment, there are some tasks you may need to deal with yourself, such as temporarily covering a leak.

Safety is paramount, however. Every year, there are a number of fatalities in the US and Canada from people falling from roofs, and the majority of these could be prevented with adequate safety measures. Staying secure while you work on a roof is vital.

It’s also important that you never work on a roof alone. You should always have at least a spotter to ensure you and any bystanders remain safe.

How to Secure Yourself When Working on a Roof

While roof safety equipment is a roofer’s best friend, safety starts from the ground up—and in the right weather.

While you are unlikely to venture up onto your roof in a gale or when it’s raining or snowing, a roof can stay wet and slippery for some time. Patches of ice, snow, or wet moss can be treacherous. In very hot weather, roof shingles can soften, and the asphalt can start to melt, making them unsteady, not to mention more easily damaged. At all times, soft-soled rubber shoes are recommended for better grip.

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Climbing Up Onto Your Roof

An aluminum or fiberglass extension ladder is the tool for the job. Make sure the ladder is standing on a firm surface. Lean the ladder against the roof at a stable angle—about one foot out for every four feet up. Make sure the “toes” of the ladder are functioning and secured to the ground. Fasten the top so the ladder won’t wobble or tip sideways when you step off. Finally, make sure your ladder extends at least three feet above the eaves so you have something to hold on to.

Roof Safety Equipment

Now that you’re up on the roof is when your roof safety equipment comes into play. Unless you need to work near the edge of the roof, it’s best to take precautions to stay away from it.

Slide Guard

A slide guard, also referred to as a toe board, will stop you in your tracks should you have the misfortune to slip from higher up. It’s also a handy foothold lower down and useful for keeping tools where you need them. You’ll first need to fix roof brackets about 18 inches to 2 feet above the eaves. The exact distance depends on the position of the rafter or truss you’ll nail them into.

Once you’ve located the solid wood of a rafter, carefully pry a roof shingle up and put the roof bracket into position. Nail it in place using ordinary 20d nails through each slot. Then press the shingle down again to neatly cover the nails. Repeat the operation spacing your roof brackets about four feet apart. Place a 2×6 plank onto the brackets, and you have your slide guard—and your first line of defense against a fall. You can easily put more slide guards in place further up the roof if necessary.

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Roof Harnesses

When attached to a lifeline and anchor point, your roof harness is your most failsafe piece of roof safety equipment, and you should never go up onto your roof without it.

A personal fall arrest system (PFAS) is usually the most suitable system for working on the roof of your house. As a homeowner, you may need to go near the sides of the roof. And if your home has two stories, you’ll be much higher than the six feet beyond which professional roofers are legally required to wear a harness in the US.

The higher and steeper your roof, the more dangerous it is to work on, and the more serious a fall could be, even with all your roof safety equipment in place. Getting help from professionals, such as the experts at Interstate Roofing, will give you greater peace of mind and save you from putting yourself in danger.

Make sure you know how to put your harness on and adjust it properly before you think of going up on your roof. Ensure that it’s the right size and a good fit around the chest and legs so it’s not loose.

You’re now ready to connect your PFAS using what’s known as an integrated system kit. This is comprised of:

  • Lifeline: This is the rope that’s fixed to the anchor point (see next section).
  • Lanyard: A lanyard looks like a strong strap. It is attached to your harness and slightly elastic so that it can absorb part of the shock if you fall.
  • Rope grab: This is a strong metal clamp connecting the lifeline and the lanyard. It completes and secures your direct connection to the anchor.
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Anchor Point

In the case of a slip or fall, everything depends on the strength of the anchor point. You’ll need to fix the metal anchor near the ridge of the roof, on a truss or rafter. Anchor manufacturers provide instructions on how to proceed and specify which screws or nails to use and how many. It’s essential to follow these instructions to the letter. Obviously, until you put your anchor in place, you won’t be protected, so it’s a good idea to have that slide guard installed beforehand.

With the above roof safety equipment all in position, you’re now secured to work safely on your roof.

Nowadays, top-quality roof safety equipment can be purchased for reasonable prices. But it can never replace professional expertise and experience. Always consider calling on professionals before planning to work on your roof.


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