About Steep Roofs and How to Safely Work on Them

Steep Roofs and Avoiding FallsBlog

Before it was reshaped by an Earthquake, the Hillary Step was a steep vertical portion of frozen terrain near the top of Mount Everest, almost 29,000 feet above sea level. The cliff was named for the famous climber and explorer Sir Edmond Hillary who, with sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was the first to conquer the climb in 1953. The Hillary Step itself was merely a 40 ft. high cliff, but for climbers losing their footing and without secure roping, the fall could be 8,000 ft. on one side of the step and 10,000 ft. on the other side… Seven times higher than New York’s Freedom Tower! That ought to put steep slope roofing work into perspective, right?

While steep slope roof replacements and repairs might not be quite as harrowing an adventure as climbing Mount Everest, roofers have to be well trained, well equipped, and pretty fearless to conquer the task.

Steep Roofs info
Mountain Climbers confronting the Hillary Step of Mt. Everest in 2011.

What Qualifies as Steep Slope Pitch?

Steep slope roofing is defined by roof pitches above 4/12, according to OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. As most roofers know, this means that vertical rises of more than 4 inches for every foot going up the slope is the starting point for what’s deemed “steep slope” roofing. In terms of angles, a roof would be considered steep-sloped if it rises at an angle of 18o or more — that would be equivalent to about a 4/12 roof pitch. Of course, many roofs are much steeper than 4/12, and the steeper a roof is, the more problematic it can be to measure, fix, or replace it.

Software such as iRoofing readily takes care of the measuring and estimation processes for steep slope roofs. Using drone, satellite, aerial, or blueprint images, any roofing pro can measure the square footage and the SQs of a steep slope roof in a matter of minutes. 

roofs pitches

Save a Trip Up the Ladder. Use Roofing Technology

iRoofing enables you to determine roof pitch accurately from a street view of a home or building. iRoofing enables you to detect roof pitch accurately from a street view of a home or building. With the app’s sketch tool, draw one line along an eave adjoining the roof’s slope or rake, then a line up the rake to the ridge. That’s it. Next, just tap the app’s Pitch button and the pitch is instantly calculated. The app can also determine the pitch by drawing along a hip and valley. You will never need to climb a steep slope roof again for measurements, roof reports, or estimates— reducing the time and risk associated with conventional manual measurement processes.

Safety Measures for Steep Roofs

When working with steep slope roofs, including the initial measurement process if you’re not using roofing software, extra fall protection equipment is required by OSHA. Not all of the following is required, but at least one of these precautionary solutions must be employed:

  • Guardrail systems and toeboards
  • Safety net systems
  • Personal fall arrest systems
roofing steep roof

NOTE: Requirements vary state-to-state and work on government projects tend to carry stricter safety measures. OSHA grants exceptions in cases where these safety solutions are infeasible, but as a roofing business owner you are required to demonstrate those special conditions.

Guardrails are barriers affixed to the roof slope. The barrier rises vertically from the roof and acts like a rail “fence” to catch a worker who loses his or her balance or slips and would otherwise fall off the structure on which they’re working. OSHA outlines very specific standards for these guardrails, which are available online at osha.gov.

Steep Roofs

Safety Nets

Primarily used in commercial construction and roofing projects, netting systems are designed to withstand the weight of a falling adult, like the netting beneath trapeze artists at a circus. Cantilever netting uses a system of extended poles or stanchions between which “pockets” of safety netting are securely connected and run the length of a lofty work area.

Personal Fall Arrest Equipment

Harnesses, retractables and life lines are among the sensible measures roofers can take, especially on steep slope roofs. Many roofers feel harnessing gets in the way and limits some of their movements but few would argue that on steep slopes personal fall arrest equipment isn’t essential.  Climbers like Sir Edmund Hillary certainly know the necessity of this safety equipment which is very similar to that made for roofing pros!

working on a Steep Roofs

Other Safety Solutions

Simple innovations including roof boots— temporary, adjustable roof attachments that provide a level surface or small work platform; roof brackets that can serve to create a safe scaffold-like solution; and devices that ensure sound footing for roofers, like foam cushion or pads and the innovative Goat Step Assist contraption. For tear-offs and related roof work, the Equipter vehicle is gaining enormous popularity in the roofing industry for companies prepared to make the investment. All roofers know the value of a great pair of boots or shoes that offer toe protection and anti-slipping, too.

  • Roof Boots
  • Roof Brackets
  • Step Assisting device, such as The Goat 
  • Cushions and pads
  • Scaffolding
  • Specialized roofing vehicles, like the Equipter
  • Proper footwear

Stay safe. Reduce the risks of steep slope roofing with safety equipment and roof measurement technology

pitch detector

Remember, you can cut out two of the most hazardous steps in dealing with steep slope roofing, 1) the measurement report and 2) the estimating process, when you use software like iRoofing. It’s fully portable and works on all mobile devices including iPhones and Androids, iPads, and other tablets.

With roofing software, you can measure from satellite, HD aerial, drone, or blueprint images.  You can arrive ready to do the roof installation by detecting pitch ahead of time using the software’s proprietary pitch detection tool, so you’ll know what safety equipment you’ll need – especially for roofs that exceed 4/12 pitch. To many roofers, a 4/12 is a walk in the park. These daredevils will walk anything up to an 8/12. Perhaps they have been fortunate enough to have never fallen from a roof? Regardless, if company policies or legal requirements call for fall protection equipment. It’s always best to comply.

Tackling a steep slope roof project in the near future?  Please be careful. Cut down on trips up a ladder, too, by using roofing software whenever possible. 

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