Updated: Jan 27, 2021
As with any roof install, metal roofing presents a set of unique hazards that you should consider and prepare for before receiving materials. Metal roofing isn't necessarily more dangerous to work with than other materials as long as proper safety measures are taken in order to mitigate risk of injury. In this article we'll look at a few of the ways that you can prepare to safely install a metal roof.
1. Safety starts before receiving the materials
It would be unwise to wait until after your materials are delivered to begin safety planning and preparations. This is because safety hazards can occur before you ever get on the roof. You should be prepared to safely handle materials during the offloading process when your materials arrive at the job site. A few things you should have on-hand (literally) before every touching metal roofing materials would include:
Proper footwear (Steelwalkers from Cougar Paws or other soft-soled shoes)
All of these items can be purchased at the same time you place the order for your materials.
Metal roofing is light-gauge steel, which means it's sharp. Handling the edges of metal roofing panels and trims without the proper skin coverings can result in serious lacerations (believe us, we've seen it happen first hand).
2. Receiving your materials
When your metal roofing materials are delivered they will likely arrive in one of three ways:
Roller trailers are what we primarily use at Best Buy Metals. They enable us navigate into tight delivery spots and still make precise drops without damaging the materials.
Roller trailers allow us to easily and quickly load and unload metal roofing materials in a safe manner. As the name implies, the method for offloading materials is to simply "roll" them off the back. These trailers are slightly tilted toward the ground to allow gravity to assist in the roll-off. Our delivery drivers are trained to safely operate our roller trailers so it's important that you allow them to handle the offloading process. As materials slide off of the trailer there are multiple opportunities for pinches and lacerations to occur if you were to attempt to intervene. You should also make sure to not stand directly behind the trailer where materials are sliding off of the trailer. Metal roofing bundles, while thin, can weigh several hundred pounds to several thousand pounds, more than enough to crush a foot, arm, leg, child, or pet.
For multi-faceted loads or unique deliveries locations we may opt to use a boom truck to offload your materials.
Again, as the name implies, boom trucks use a hydraulic "boom" arm to safely off-load your materials to the ground. You should give a liberal amount of clearance to the the boom during operation. You should never stand directly under any part of the boom or under any materials that are suspended in the air.
A "moffett" is a type of fork-truck that mounts to the back of a flat-bed trailer.
We will typically use a Moffett truck for deliveries that involved palletized products, lumber, or other materials that won't easily roll off of the back of a trailer. You should always stand clear of a Moffett truck when it the operator is off-loading you materials. Similar to boom trucks, Moffetts will be suspending your materials in the air during the off-loading process so you should never stand under materials or forks while they are in the air. Do not attempt to steady or guide the materials by grabbing them in the air, wait until the materials have safely reached ground level and the Moffett has been remounted to the trailer before interacting with you materials.
Materials are heavier than they appear, they will crush you if they fall on top of you. For example, 2,500SF of 29ga roofing materials weighs around one ton.
2. Proper handling
Once all materials have been unloaded it is good practice to inspect your materials for tearing, barbs or rips that may create hazardous sharp edges and points. Always wear your protective gloves and sleeves when inspecting and handling materials.
It's important to note that if materials are wet they are much more likely to cut you. It is significantly more difficult to grip metal materials when they are wet. This combined with the increased surface tension of your skin when it is wet greatly increases your chances of being cut.
When you begin moving panels move them one at a time. Panels weigh more than they look. Lift from the knees and hips and not from the back. Use a buddy to help carry any panel that you can't safely maneuver alone or any materials over fifty pounds (you also greatly increase the odds of scratching, buckling, or otherwise damaging your panels if you attempt to carry more than one at a time).
3. Getting materials on the roof
Again, only move one panel at a time. The best practice for getting materials on the roof starts by leaning the panel vertically against the eave (gutter) edge of the roof. The panel should be leaning at around 80 degrees. Have someone on the roof pull the panel up the roof while someone on the ground is pushing it up toward the roof. Once the panel's center of gravity shifts toward the roof the person on the ground should immediately get out of the way to avoid injury should the panel slide back off the roof. Simultaneously the person on the roof should lower the panel to the roof deck. This distributes the weight across the roof surface and also mitigates the risk of wind gusts attempting to carry the panel. Wind gusts can turn metal roofing panels into wind sails. A metal roof panel that gets carried by the wind will at best sustain damage and may also damage other materials. At worst it could cause significant bodily harm to someone should it come in contact with them.
NOTE: There needs to be excessive between the person on the roof and the person on the ground during this process. Communication prevents injury and could save a life.
4. Fall protection
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 33% of construction fatalities are a result of fatal falls and over 70% of falls in the construction industry result in a fatality. It is also true that statistically more people fall off low slope roofs than steep slope because they don't feel the need to use fall protection. You should never work on a roof without proper fall protection. Sufficient protection includes:
Stop grip shorts
Roof peak anchor
Roofing harness with clips
Soft-sole shoes/boots with sufficient grip
Steelwalkers by Cougar Paws are an excellent shoe to use for metal roofing. They feature a magnetic soft-sole that increases grip on metal surfaces that may be coated in dust or pollen. They do not replace the need for ropes and harnesses.
5. Preparing your materials
Most roofs will require cuts to be made (chimneys, dormers, valleys, etc.). You should not make cuts while on the roof, especially with a circular saw. Making cuts on the roof greatly increase your risk of injury (not to mention the risk of an incorrect cut).
6. Inclement Weather Conditions
As with any roof project, you should only attempt to access the roof during fair weather conditions. Don't get on the roof when it is wet or icy. Metal roofing becomes very slippery when it is wet and should you begin to slide it can be very difficult to stop yourself.
Working on any roof during extreme heat can be dangerous. Lack of shade, limited access to liquids, and heat reflection from the roof surface can contribute to rapid heat exhaustion. Should you begin to feel like you are experiencing heat exhaustion then you should immediately dismount the roof. Loss of balance on a roof is far more serious than loss of balance on the ground.
7. Don't be an idiot
You should never attempt to access your roof while under the influence. It can seem innocent in a DIY project to have a beer with friends that may be helping you out, but it is never a good idea to get on your roof while any of your cognitive or fine motor skills are dulled. Again, a loss of balance on a roof is far worse than on the ground. Losing your balance on the roof could results in losing your life. Be smart!
In conclusion, metal roofing isn't inherently more hazardous to install than any other roofing material, it just presents a unique set of challenges. Metal roofing makes a great DIY project when you follow the necessary steps to get the job done safely. Be smart, be careful and happy roofing!
Thanks Adam Clark for providing the outline for this post