When you consider that the workers are moving across steeply slanted surfaces and performing jobs that require demanding labor in awkward positions, is it any wonder that roofing ranks sixth out of the top ten most hazardous jobs in the US? The fatality rate is approximately twice that of all construction work, with 29.4 per 100,000 workers. Additionally, roofers are nearly six times more likely to endure injuries than other workers.

About three-fourths of all deaths among roofing workers arise from falls. Another 11 percent come from electrocution, often from contacting overhead power lines. Falls and electrocution are two kinds of accidents that are most likely to cause death on construction sites. These two, along with being struck by objects and getting caught between objects, are known as the “Fatal Four” of the construction industry.

Finally, while not often deadly, severe burns from hot tar and other roofing materials can cause disfiguring injuries.

South Carolina Stories

In South Carolina, roofing injuries and deaths occur with some regularity. It is likely that, in these cases, the worker could have survived or sustained less serious harm if they had been wearing the proper fall restraint gear:

  • In July, 2015, in Greenville, a worker lost his footing and died from the fall. SC OSHA named two serious violations: failure to provide a sufficient safety system (guardrail, safety net, or personal fall arrest system, otherwise known as PFAS) for workers at heights above six feet; and failure to provide effective safety training.
  • In May, 2015, also in Greenville, a roofer lost his footing and fell to the ground, later dying in the hospital.
  • In October, 2014, again in Greenville, a roofer lost his balance and fell to his death.

OSHA’s Top Ten

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), many kinds of training, processes, and varieties of gear can keep roofing workers safe. Most roofing accidents are preventable if the proper precautions mandated by law are followed.

The “top ten” OSHA citations given to roofing contractors, listed by number of citations during 2013, reflect negligence with regard to:

  1. The responsibility to have fall protection
  2. Ladder safety
  3. Fall-protection training requirements
  4. Eye and face protection
  5. General scaffolding requirements
  6. General safety and health provisions
  7. Head protection
  8. Fall-protection systems criteria and practices
  9. Ladder training requirements
  10. Hazard communication.

Focus on Falls

Because so many roofing deaths are due to falls, a number of regulations have been put forth to prevent them. Workers must be trained and, when needed, retrained to understand how to use various protection systems, including the processes of inspecting the equipment, erecting and disassembling it, and maintaining it. Training must include the use of a personal fall arrest system (PFAS). Rescue plans, warning lines, guardrails, and safety monitors are all needed parts of fall prevention systems.

Additional areas of fall-prevention focus include:

  • Covers to keep workers from falling through skylights and other openings in roofs
  • The proper setup and use of extension ladders and stepladders, including making sure that the ladders have secure footing, are correctly extended, and, in the case of stepladders, are fully open
  • Scaffolding and platforms have many regulations designed to keep workers from falling off or being tipped off, including the use of guardrails and midrails and the need for safe access points
  • The correct use of aerial lifts and forklifts
  • Disposing of trash and debris to keep the work areas clear to prevent falls due to tripping
  • Protections from falling objects
  • Ensuring that the existing roof has enough structural integrity to support workers.

Other Roofing Hazards


A number of other risks are common for roofers:

  • Electrocution from contact with overhead power lines, especially service drops, is the most common reason for fatalities. Those who work on roofs can also end up contacting electrical conduit that might be buried inside old roofing materials that require removal.
  • The hot tar that is used on some roofing jobs, notably built-up roofing, can create severe burns, as can torch-applied roofing, where the open flames can reach temperatures of 2,000 degrees F. In cases where high temperatures are part of the job, fire extinguishers and a number of fire-prevention techniques must be practiced. Fires can also be a risk when working with single-ply roofing, which employs highly-flammable adhesives.
  • Tools such as nail guns and power saws create the possibility of terrible accidents. When using power tools and such manual tools as shingle strippers and tin snips, the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) must be used, including eye protection, work boots, and hearing protection around air compressors and generators. Tool guards should also be in place. In some cases, hard hats and clothing designed for high visibility can be required.
  • Hazardous fumes and dust can cause both immediate and long-term harm. Various kinds of respirators are needed when working around asbestos, lead, silica dust, or any substance that gives off unsafe fumes.

Roofing contractors also need to have an emergency action plan and adequate first aid on-site.

If you are a roofing worker, and you feel you do not have the proper protections, you can find out more information from OSHA.

If you have been injured on the job, or if you have lost a loved one, and you feel that the appropriate protections were not in place, you may want to obtain legal advice.

Seeking truth. Securing justice.

Since 1959, the Louthian Law Firm has helped South Carolinians win compensation for construction injuries and other serious physical damage. We know our clients often come to us during a stressful time in their lives. That’s why we promise our clients personalized service outside of court and experienced, aggressive representation at the negotiation table and at trial. We understand how the workers’ compensation laws work and know how to pursue third-party negligence cases aggressively. With us on your side, you can concentrate on getting better and going back to work while we help you collect the money you’re entitled to.

If you or someone you love has been injured on the job in South Carolina, contact us as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. Call the workplace injury lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm at (803) 454-1200, or use our online contact form  to schedule a free and confidential consultation.