Equipment Notes: Tear-Off Safety

The Heat of Summer Does Not Mean Relaxing on Safety

by Eddie Garcia, territory sales manager, Roofmaster Products Company








(Editor’s Note: Eddie Garcia is territory sales manager for Roofmaster® Products Company for Southern California. With 44 years of roofing industry experience, he is known for his extensive product knowledge in equipment and tools for both commercial and residential roofing. As a product expert, Garcia helps roofing professionals and distributors find the right tools they need.)


Tear-off can certainly be one of the more dangerous aspects of roofing. Whether it be commercial, using power equipment, or residential, using hand tools, crew safety certainly must be given priority #1. Falling off or through the roof is probably the main concern, but cuts and lacerations, abrasions, dust inhalation, and hazmat materials must also be added to the equation. All crewmembers need to be outfitted properly with protective clothing, gloves, shoes, etc. Sometimes during the hot summer months it is very easy and likely that this area becomes relaxed for obvious reasons. However discomforting, reasonable attempts must be made to make sure the crews wear protective clothing. Safety shoes should be worn even if athletic shoes are cheaper and more comfortable to wear. Athletic shoes do not provide proper protection, especially with nails protruding up through the roof deck. Remember to have first aid kits nearby for those minor cuts, burns, and abrasions. All crewmembers should know where the first aid kit is located.

Along with a great pair of heavy-duty leather gloves, a dust mask should also be common equipment for all crewmembers. OSHA is aiming its sights on dust problems. Cutting of concrete and clay tiles and the dust they generate is becoming a heavy issue of safety and the lung ailments they potentially cause. Tear-off disturbs years of airborne dust and dirt buildup to be inhaled by every crewmember on the jobsite. Hard (safety) hats may also be required on many commercial projects. Check with the general or roofing contractor to know what specific additional equipment may be required for that project.

Personal fall arrest kits may also be required. Know what the local and state OSHA regulations require for the specific tear off situation. For instance, in California, higher than 20′ is usually automatic for requiring personal fall arrest, but in other states it may be as low as 7’. Parapet walls less than 2′ have one requirement while greater than 2′ requires another safety measure.

Perimeter warning systems on some commercial projects may be required to section off certain hazardous areas. This system only allows a worker to get within less than 7′ of the roof edge. Otherwise a fall arrest system may be required or a full guardrail (fence) system may be necessary. Be prepared to nail plywood sheets over stairways, skylight holes, and any other openings in the roof deck surface to protect workers from falling through.

For high commercial projects, be sure to safely discard tear-off materials through the use of trash hoppers and chutes. Do not just throw material off the roof edge. Damage to property and injury to workers below can be costly in additional repairs or medical expenses. Use caution tape or perimeter warning systems to partition off dangerous areas around and below the affected work areas. Have a methodical plan for removing material from both the roof and jobsite that cuts down costs, but does not sacrifice worker safety.

And remember the drinking water. All OSHA regulations require that employers have adequate quantities of water on hand, up to 8-10 quarts per worker, to provide proper hydration, for workers, especially during hot summer days. Tear-off is dirty, dusty hard work. Clean, drinkable water is just as necessary to workers as all their other safety gear.