As a roofer, you probably do the bulk of your work during the spring, summer, and fall, when the weather is nice. However, there may be times when you have to perform emergency repairs because a roof has been damaged by heavy snow or destroyed by critters trying to escape the cold. It's always important to be careful when you're working on a roof, but it's extra important during the winter because freezing temperatures and unexpected snowstorms can jeopardize your safety. Here are some practical, easy-to-incorporate tips to help you make it through the winter months without experiencing any major injuries.
Throughout the year, you probably follow basic safety tips when it comes to how you dress for work. You might avoid baggy clothes because they can easily get caught on a loose shingle, and you probably wear steel-toe boots that protect your feet if you drop a heavy piece of electrical equipment. In addition to abiding by these year-round clothing recommendations, you should also consider the following suggestions during winter roofing jobs:
- Make sure that your steel-toe boots have slip-resistant soles so that you do not fall on a patch of ice or a puddle of melted snow.
- If you decide to wear a scarf, choose an infinity-style piece where the ends are connected so loose ends don't get caught on your equipment.
- Dress in layers so you can remove pieces and prevent your body from overheating if the weather warms up while you're on the roof.
- Wear thick gloves that protect your fingers from frostbite without hindering your ability to move your hands normally.
Some employers help workers pay for specific types of safety gear, so talk to your boss about receiving reimbursement for work boots or special gloves. If you are self employed, save all receipts for work-related clothing. You might be able to deduct your clothing expenses at tax time.
Take Frequent Breaks
Taking multiple breaks each hour during extreme temperatures can reduce your exposure to the cold. If the wind chill temperature is -19 degrees Fahrenheit, it takes approximately 30 minutes for frostbite to occur. To minimize your risk of frostbite, follow the clothing recommendations in the section above and take frequent breaks in warm places, such as a heated vehicle or indoor room.
During your breaks, sip on warm liquids, such as soup or hot tea, to raise your body temperature. This helps protect you from the risk of developing hypothermia, a condition which occurs when your body temperature becomes too low. If you do not have an indoor area where you can store break-time liquids, pour one in a thermos and wrap the thermos in towels, blankets, or aluminum foil to keep heat from escaping.
Work With a Partner
Roofers often rely on the buddy system or even an entire crew to keep them safe during a gig. If you don't currently do this, the winter is a great time to start. A partner can hold your ladder firmly in place or help you install a bracket around the ladder's bottom, so you don't have to worry about the fixture sliding around in the snow. Some roofing supply companies sell ladder brackets and similar pieces of safety equipment.
A partner can also help you examine the roof for potential safety hazards, such as snow-covered skylights, prior to beginning any repairs. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that 22% of fatal roofing falls occur when workers fall through skylights, and a second set of eyes might help you locate them if the roof is covered in patches of ice or snow.
Know Your Legal Rights
After reading the safety tips above, you might be wondering if it's even legal to work during extreme cold, freezing rain, or heavy snow. That answer depends on a number of factors, such as whether you are an employee or an independent contractor. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly referred to as OSHA, states that employers must provide a workplace that is "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." A roofing employee could argue that an ice-covered roof or a roof that needs repairs during freezing temperatures are both recognized hazards.
If you are an independent contractor, you are not protected by employment laws and guidelines. However, you can voice your concerns to your supervisor and explain that you do not feel safe working on a roof during severe weather. When you are an independent contractor, you have the right to refuse work-related tasks that you do not feel comfortable doing, but keep in mind that your supervisor has the right to terminate your contract if you do not agree to complete a specific project.
Working during the winter is dangerous, but sometimes, it has to be done. Follow the tips above to stay safe during winter roofing repairs, and make sure to purchase the safety products you need from a trusted roofing supply company like American Building & Roofing Inc.