Roofing: The Most Dangerous Construction Trade
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports roofing as the trade with the highest fatality rate of all construction trades and the 4th highest of all occupations.
I’ve worked for a few roofing companies and know that it is a risky profession, but this statistic still came as a shock. Had I guessed, I probably would have said electricians or trench workers were the riskiest trade.
This article looks at why roofing is the most dangerous trade and ways every one of us can help change that.
How to Determine Risk Levels in Construction
Construction hazard risk levels are evaluated based on two components, the probability of its occurrence and the severity of a resulting injury. With those two pieces of information in hand, we can use the chart below to determine the level of risk.
We know that roofers have a high exposure risk to falls, putting them in row D. We also know that falls are the leading cause of death in construction, putting them in column 4.
(Image source: IHSA)
That puts the roofing profession in the bottom right corner of the chart, at the highest level of risk possible.
However, ironworkers also work at heights and even more around leading edges. They, too, are in the highest risk category, yet their fatality rate is half that of roofing.
The difference between the two trades is in the control measures they use, or more accurately, don’t use. Any trade in the high-risk category should be implementing the highest level of controls to mitigate those hazards.
What Are High-Level Fall Protection Controls?
According to OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.501, every time an employee is working higher than six feet, they must utilize some form of fall protection. In short, that means roofing contractors need to:
- Provide and ensure workers wear proper personal fall arrest systems
- Set up adequate anchor points to tie off to
- Set up guardrails or warning lines when applicable
- Train employees on how to use the safety equipment and safe work practices
It’s not rocket science, yet for some reason, the number one most frequently cited OSHA standard is lack of fall protection. It is one of the highest risks and very often goes completely uncontrolled.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a study on the effect of personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) on falls in construction. Here are three of their key findings:
- 54% of workers who fell were not provided access to PFAS by their employers
- 23% of workers who fell had access to a PFAS but chose not to wear one
- Lack of access was highest among residential roofing, siding and sheet metal contractors at 70%
This means the majority of fall-related deaths are preventable. Roofers should be the most safety-conscious trade out there, but they aren’t.
Why Don’t Roofing Companies Use Safety?
Over the many years that I’ve been in the construction safety industry, I’m confident I’ve heard all the excuses for why safety measures aren’t in place. For roofing companies, they usually boil down to one main reason, time.
Roofing crews (particularly residential) are often on more than one project a day. Every project requires a safety setup, no matter its size. That means sometimes the configuration takes longer than the job itself.
Add on to that the fact that roofing (especially residential) is an incredibly competitive industry, which drives prices down. Less income means companies need to keep costs low to make a profit. The most utilized tactic for keeping costs low is to increase production over less time. Less time allotted to complete projects means corners get cut. Since safety requires ‘extra’ time, it is often the first to go.
What You Can Do to Help Stop Construction Fall Fatalities
Everybody can do their part to fix this problem and save lives.
- provide workers with PFAS’s at no cost to the worker
- factor time and money for safety set up into the project
- use the PFAS’s they are provided
- leave a company that refuses to provide them
- make informed decisions to hire professional companies
- ensure the company you hire utilizes high-level safety controls
- recognize that the cheapest contractor is not likely the safest
What SafetyHQ is Doing to Help
We have launched a free version of our app to make safety toolbox talks accessible and affordable for all contractors. It is not a trial; it is a free plan for as long as you want it.
We even have roofing-specific toolbox talks available in our library, which is just one reason we are the number one safety app used by roofers.