April, 2010
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Roofs High on List of Hazards


No surprise here: Roofs were on the list when members were interviewed in 2008 for an article on safety issues.

At that time, Ken Goewey of Accurate Inspections in Burnsville, Minn. (near Minneapolis-St. Paul), said he had changed his roof strategy recently to going slow and “keeping three points of contact, especially coming down.” Any time he’s walking a roof, he said, he stops to look at things instead of looking and walking at the same time.

Larry Crouch of Metro Property Inspections in Omaha, Neb., said he uses an articulating ladder that he can lay over the roof “that makes it easier to get on and off and if you slide, it makes it easier to grab on to — plus, it’s a little more resistant to wind.”

Joanne MacKintosh of Centennial Home Inspection Services, Inc. in Woodinvale, Wash. (a suburb of Seattle), said with all the rain in her area, it’s sometimes hard to convince clients that a roof is not safe. In some conditions, she’ll move the ladder around a lot to see as much as possible, or reschedule another day for roof inspection. She sometimes brings a 30-foot ladder for bigger, older houses.

Now retired, Shane Pouch said in 2008 it helps to have a game plan before getting on the roof, but still finds it odd that inspectors routinely walk roofs alone and untethered. “OSHA would fine you if they saw you on a roof without anything to tie you off,” he commented.

OSHA provides safety guidelines

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation. The standards pertaining to working on a roof are included in Part 1926 Safety and Health Regulations for Construction. OSHA also published STD 3-0.1A, Plain Language Revision of OSHA Instruction STD 3.1, Interim Fall Protection Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction.

Even though the guidelines are categorized according to the type of roofing work taking place, they address hazards that are also of concern to home inspectors who choose to get on a roof to inspect it, such as incline or slope of the roof, slipping, weather, ladders, edges and openings. Click here to read the guidelines.

On the roof or not

Given the widely documented risk of getting on a roof, many inspectors elect to inspect them from the ground with binoculars or from a ladder, documenting their methods in their reports.

Every day, home inspectors make decisions about their personal health and safety, and whether or not to climb that ladder and get on that roof is one of the most important ones.

He or she must weigh the benefits of doing so against the risks. Risk factors include weather conditions, roofing materials, openings, height and/or slope, the condition of the roof and other factors that can only be assessed on the site.

Although the OSHA standards provide regulations covering all these hazards and more, there are basic differences between constructing or repairing roofs and inspecting them.

The U.S. Navy recognized these differences in its “Safety Plan for Roofing Assessments.” Download the Word doc of the safety plan here. Please note that the plan is intended to be used by a team, typically consisting of a minimum of two individuals, “One of which shall be designated as a safety monitor/recorder and assist the inspector by maintaining visual and verbal contact at all times during the inspection.”

Without the safety monitor, the procedures described are not recommended. Nevertheless, the rationale for developing such a plan may be of interest to home inspectors.

Make safety a habit

Because of the general nature of their work, home inspectors may benefit from learning about the safety precautions developed for a variety of trades and professions. ASHI will continue to publish those that might be helpful to inspectors and to promote safety awareness at every step of the inspection.

Coming soon: more about weather concerns and ladder safety.