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How to Work on a Roof Safely - A Useful Guide


Reading time: 7 minutes


The most common accident on a building site comes from falls and trips from a height, but homeowners are at risk too, no matter how small or simple the job may seem.


Important considerations when engaged in roof work

The roofing regulations UK law states that you must ‘organise and plan all roof work so that it is carried out safely’, as part of the HSE (Health & Safety at Work) regulations. Before carrying out any work, a competent person must perform a risk assessment/plan a method statement and use safety measures to protect not only those working at heights, but for other workers or even the general public who may also be at risk from falls or falling materials.


It’s vital to consider how you’ll safely access the roof, how you’ll cordon off the area, whether you’ll need to consider scaffolding safety and/or ladder safety regulations, what fall prevention and PPE you’ll use, which roof edges are present and what risk they may offer, and any fragile surfaces you may encounter - such as degraded dry verge materials or openings such as roof windows.


Remember that the leading cause of death on construction sites are falls from heights, and specifically falls from ladders account for the highest number of DIY accidents. For construction workers, falls are most likely to happen due to falling from edges or roof openings, or falling through unstable or fragile roofing materials. It’s important to know the risks, so that you can take simple steps to minimise them - such as using the correct equipment, assessing the roof type and its risk, and receiving specific training for your role.


Laws and regulations for roof work

As mentioned, roofing regulations UK law states that you must plan all roofing work to make sure it’s safely carried out, and that you use the correct precautions to minimise the risk to workers and those around them. If you’re working on a building site, all workers must be properly trained to carry out their job - ideally holding the correct CSCS qualification, or CISRS card for scaffolders. Most roof alterations require a Roofing Permit, and remember that if you’re replacing over 25% of an existing roof, you may need both building regulations approval as well as planning permission


The Work at Height Regulations 2005, designed to help prevent the risks from falls, state that you must:


  • Avoid work at height where possible

  • A competent person must risk assess and create a method plan

  • Prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe, or the right structure

  • Minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of equipment

  • Assess the quality and structural safety of any existing roof construction

  • Make sure workers can safely get up and down

  • Make sure any equipment is suitable and in good condition

  • Never overload or over-reach

  • Take the proper roofing safety precautions and receive training for the task

  • Offer protection from falling objects

  • Make an emergency plan


Both employers and employees have a legal responsibility to work safely, avoid unnecessary risks and protect themselves and those around them at all times.


How can you work on your roof safely?

Depending on the type of roof, and your experience level, you can avoid unnecessary risks to assist with working on a roof safely. Use the correct ladder or scaffold tower for the job, and use only trained and qualified workers. When working at height, you can use guardrails, restraints, signage, safety helmets, toe boards and safety nets to reduce the risks of workers falling or debris hurting people on the ground. 


A ladder safety checklist and scaffolding safety checklists can be used, and a thorough risk assessment (to look at the risks) and method statement (to plan how to mitigate the risk) must be carried out by a competent person. These are vital in planning and reducing the risk of accidents, and must be unique to the site and roof construction type. A platform can be placed under the roof as well, as well as suitable anchoring and stagings used to further improve safety. It’s also wise to consider weather conditions beforehand, and continually assess the safety of any structure to make sure its fit for purpose. Above all, it’s important for workers to work within their means, not to take unnecessary risks and follow industry safety standards at all times.

How do you secure yourself when working on a roof?

As well as having handrails, guard rails and toe boards installed, to prevent falls, workers can use a fall arrest safety harnesses to anchor them in case of slipping. It’s also vital to have the correct - and properly fitting - personal safety equipment. You can also help yourself to stay safe through:


  • Using a safety harnesses

  • Anchoring your harness to the correct place

  • Wearing non-slip footwear and PPE

  • Undertaking training and supervision by a competent person

  • Regularly checking equipment and/or structures

  • Knowing the emergency plan

  • Not overloading structures

  • Not leaving building materials or tools lying around

  • Not working in poor weather conditions

  • Working from the ground, where possible

  • Working within your capabilities - not taking risks or using equipment incorrectly


Rules for roof types

Generally, it’s recognised that sloping roofs may need scaffolding to be safely worked on, whereas flat roofs - or very short, simple jobs on sloping roofs (under 30 minutes) - may be accessible using a ladder, depending on the height and complexity of the task. The supervisor will be able to make the call as to which is most appropriate for the job. Edge protection should be used on all scaffold towers, with ladders properly secured and anchored to suitable ground. When accessing flat roofs, guard rails and toe boards can be used to prevent falls.


Safe access

All access must be planned in advance, and needs a particularly in-depth plan when the job involves multiple workers and/or when work progresses along a roof edge or side. Access may be by general scaffold towers, stair towers, mobile towers, ladders, access hatches or lifts and booms. Each will need the correctly trained workers, safety equipment and signage.


Safety signage and cordons

As well as providing the safety for workers at height, it’s important to consider the safety of the general public and other contractors who may be working alongside you. Scaffold protector tubes and high vis cordons can help to warn pedestrians, and, as mentioned, safety signage is needed as well as safety netting to catch any falling debris. 


Roof Safety: FAQs


Is working on a roof a hazard?

Working on a roof - or at a height - can be inherently risky. Falls from heights are the leading cause of serious accidents for both construction workers and DIYers. It’s therefore essential (and a legal requirement) to take safety precautions to protect workers and pedestrians. 


Can you work on a roof by yourself?

Working alone on a roof is not recommended. It’s a potentially dangerous task, so it’s useful to have someone with you to assist you if something goes wrong, and to foot the ladder if you’re using one. You must have a safety system in place to help control and minimise the risk. 


What do you not do on the roof?

When accessing a roof, such as for building maintenance or repairs, you must never over-reach, never overload your ladder or scaffolding and never leave equipment or materials lying around. You should use a safety harness, wear the correct safety workwear and avoid walking on the roof or any roof windows.


Is it illegal to work on a roof without scaffolding?

If the job is complex, takes more than 30 minutes or there is a risk to workers or the public, scaffolding must be used. A risk assessment should be carried out first, to see if a ladder or lift can be used, but generally if it involves multiple workers or larger-scale projects, safety legislation indicates scaffolding use.


Still wondering how to work on a roof safely? Remember, it is UK law to take measures to ensure working on a roof safely does not put contractors or the public at risk, and there are simple steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of accidents for workers - from harnesses to PPE. 


For more information on roofing insulation regulations, construction site safety, or for tips and inspiration, visit the Travis Perkins Trade News & Advice Hub.

Disclaimer: Information displayed in this article is correct at the time of publication, but note that legislation changes periodically. The information contained on this page is intended as an overall introduction and is not intended as advice from a professional building control officer. Travis Perkins aims to avoid, but accepts no liability, in the case that any information stated is out of date.