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5 Habits That Can Save Your Life On A Roof

5 Habits That Can Save Your Life on a Roof


We spend a good deal of time discussing equipment in this blog, from fall protection to work platforms to scaffolding and lifts. Notice, however, the title of this blog post - specifically the word “habits”. In the end, it’s often our behavior at work that contributes to incidents, not the equipment. If we choose the wrong lanyard, is it the fault of the lanyard? If we climb a railing, is it the fault of the work platform? If we overload a boom-lift basket with material, is it the fault of the boom-lift? Our actions, when inappropriate, non-compliant, or downright unsafe, can be disastrous. Fortunately, our actions are completely within our control. So let’s take a look at the little things we can do that can make a big difference in our personal safety in a given situation, such as working on a roof. Please note that the most important habit you could develop to ensure your safety on a roof is the proper use of fall protection. Without it, nothing else will matter. This article is intended to look at other habits BEYOND just the use of fall protection that can keep you safe.

1. Never Step Backward

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  Don’t step backward.  Yet, it happens all the time and even though it is often without negative repercussions, in a high hazard situation, like on a roof, it could be a critical mistake.  Are you absolutely sure of where you are standing?  Maybe you know you’re not directly in front of a skylight (which should be protected, but for the sake of argument, let’s pretend it’s not), but what about that low run of conduit or soft spot in the roof that is going to cause you to lose your balance and fall into the skylight?  Are you absolutely sure how close you are to an edge?  Maybe you think you are, but how long have you been standing or working in that spot?  How much have you moved from your original point?  If you’ve been concentrating on your work, maybe you aren’t exactly where you thought you were.  Warning lines, safety monitors, and other fall protection considerations aside, this small change in behavior can be a literal life-saver.

2. Never Look at the Phone (or Other Distraction) While Walking

This habit has gotten bad enough on city sidewalks and in shopping malls where trying to walk without colliding into a phone-entranced zombie has almost become a full contact sport, but doing this on the roof could end up in a much worse situation than having to apologize to somebody you accidentally bumped.  The roof – and workplaces in general – are no place for distraction.  If your company doesn’t have a no phone policy (or you ignore that policy) leave the work area to take a phone call.  Find a safe place and stay put.  Not paying attention while moving around could cause you to step somewhere you shouldn’t, or bump a co-worker causing them to have an incident.

3. Don’t Climb Over Anything

It doesn’t matter what it is – equipment, skylights, parapet walls, or other obstacles, if you don’t know what’s on the other side and if you aren’t provided a safe way to cross, find another way.  Maybe you need to install a walkover, a work platform, a ladder, or some other means, or maybe you just need to find a different route, either way, trying to climb over something blindly or without the proper protections is just asking for a fall.  Sure, we know, you have great balance.   You can scale walls like an insect.  You’ve got the hand strength of a mountain climber.  All of those are fantastic, until the one time they fail. 

4. Always Slow Down When Approaching an Edge/Ladder

Hopefully,  you secured the ladder in place if it’s a temporary ladder, or the bolts are holding well if it’s a fixed ladder, but the truth is that no matter what you do, you can never be 100% positive what kind of condition a ladder is in before you step onto it.  You need to always take it slow and test it before you mount in order to make sure it’s secure.  Not to mention, approaching a ladder or edge too quickly could be disastrous if you lose your balance or make even the slightest of miscalculations.   Take it slow, make sure you have sure footing and a good grip, and proceed with caution.  If you’re approaching an edge quickly, ask yourself why?  Are you in that much of a rush?  Newsflash, if you fall, your schedule is going to be seriously impacted.  Hopefully you are wearing fall protection of some kind, but do you really want to put it to the test?  Maybe there’s a railing.  What if you trip at the last minute?  Remember, railings are compliant if they resist as little as 200 lbs. of force.  Do you think they’ll be effective if you come crashing into them full speed?  Why find out?

5. Test Footing Before Placing Weight

Roofs get old.  Roofs get damaged.  Some weren’t very good to begin with.  Unfortunately, you have no idea what’s actually happening beneath the membrane.  Make sure you are aware of the condition of your roof.  Check it from the underside if possible and proceed with caution on top.  At the first hint of a soft spot, stop.  Test it out.  This idea also applies to getting on a ladder whether at top or bottom.  It’s not safe to just place the ladder and go, or to hop on a ladder that’s been moved or placed while you were already on the roof.  Make sure the footing is good so that the ladder doesn’t shift once your weight is on it.  Taking your time and using caution could mean the difference between life or death.

Your behavior is more important to your well-being than just about any other factor.  If bad behavior in the workplace can have such tragic results, why don’t people take more care in their actions?  It’s a simple thing to do.  You can easily turn these five ideas and many others into your own habits to be proactive in protecting your own life.  

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This post contributed by:

John Braun, CSP, CHST

Co-Owner, Signature Safety, LLC.

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http://www.signaturesafety.net

John Braun has been in the EHS field for more than 14 years. He achieved his CHST in 2005 and his CSP in 2010. Though he focuses on construction, his background includes manufacturing, recycling, and warehousing facilities as well. John holds a Bachelor's degree in English from The College of NJ.

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