Being aware of safety when working on a roof can save your life

Repairing a roof, replacing tiles, cleaning gutters or any similar project which require elevation off the ground needs to be done safely. Falling is preventable, and can cause injury leading to paralysis, broken bodies and death.

Before working on an elevated surface, plan for safety and make sure the weather is conducive to working in a high risk environment ie not rainy, too windy. Plan to have the materials that you will need to avoid moving up and down the ladder or around on the roof too much. Plan to not be on the roof during mid day if possible.

Precautionary checks before working on a roof :

  • Weather – rainy, windy, too sunny
  • Wear shoes with traction and rubber soles
  • Keep mud and dirt off the bottom of your shoes
  • Don’t walk on a wet roof
  • Watch the roof surface for broken tiles

Legal responsibilities for working on roofs:

  • Workers need information and training on fragile roofs, working from an elevated height
  • Ensure visibility is good
  • No one should work on an elevated area when under the influence of alcohol, medication or with epilepsy
  • Roof pitch – Roof slopes exceeding around 37’ are seen as steep slope roofs and should be treated with extra precautions.
  • Ensure the harnesses used are securely fitted to a line or anchor
  • People working on the roof need to be aware of the risks, and how to prevent them
  • Make sure people are there with first aid knowledge, do not go it alone!

Potential risks when working on roofs:

  • Slipping
  • Falling
  • Broken tiles
  • Electricity
  • Wet leaves / moss

Safety precautions:

  • Walk as little as possible.
  • Working on fragile roofs could have rusted nails / bolts / rusted metal sheets or broken tiles
  • Falling through the roof off the roof
  • Understand how to use a harness, with single and double lanyard
  • Be careful, don’t take unnecessary risks such as fixing the DSTV during a rain storm
  • Communication – if you are on a roof and throwing down objects, there needs to be a clear barrier around the landing area and communication with people on the ground of what is happening
  • Use shoes with good grip
  • Getting onto and off roofs safely:
  • Don t work on a roof during a storm, because of the wet and lightning risk
  • Ladders need to be stabilised properly on the top and bottom
  • Use a safety harness built for roofs
  • Know first aid
  • Do a Fall Arrest technicians course
  • Don’t balance paint or equipment on the edge of the roof, ensure there is a stable and safe place to put it

Protective gear:

SAQA NQF information for safety measures when working at elevated levels:

SAQA has many unit standards relating to safely working at an elevated level of which a few have been placed here. For more information contact SAQA

Knowledge and understanding regarding working at elevated levels, inspecting and caring for equipment, safety principles when working in elevated positions


Explain and perform fall arrest techniques when working at height


120362 Monitor, report and make recommendations pertaining to specified requirements in terms of working at heights


For people who are working at an elevated height and needing to understang the limitations of fall arrest equipment, anchor points, fall arrest with double lanyards, as well as pre-installed vertical and horizontal safe-lines.


229998 Explain and perform fall arrest techniques when working at height


Assess the safety of the work-site where there are elevated work levels, knowledge of fall arrest equipment, and advanced fall arrest rescue. Includes managing the safety of personnel working at heights


229994 Assess a worksite for work at height and prepare a fall protection plan


Courses for employees to safely work at elevated heights:

NOSA is an accredited provider with branches all over South Africa who gives courses on:

  • Confined spaces
  • Fall arrest system rescue and system user
  • Basic working at height
  • Basic fall arrest
  • Fall arrest and rescue
  • Advanced fall arrest
  • Fall protection plan development
  • Post fall arrest rescue
  • Post fall arrest self rescue

Prevent broken roofs:

Roof shingles: when walking on roofs made with shingles – use smaller steps when walking on a shingle roof. Use a roofing ladder if the pitch is too high

Roof tiles – Roof tiles can be made from clay or concrete and thus don’t absorb the heat, but are good reflectors. The lighter the colour the better the cooling effect of the tiles. Roof tiles break easily, try and walk gently by distributing your weight evenly as you walk. Walk slowly, don’t jump/run on tiled roofs

Metal roofs: these get hot, and reflect sunlight. Rusted screws and metal can cause tetanus and injury if it cuts the skin. Please make sure you have good footwear protection, wear sun protection against the glare.