Metal safety

Two primary hazards come to mind concerning metal roof system applications or metalwork complementing a roof system—cuts and falls. Avoiding sharp objects may be aided by recent advances in personal protective equipment (PPE), but confronting fall hazards, especially in residential construction, involves some critical choices. Following are some common hazards associated with metal roofing and alternative work practices and products that may reduce workers' exposures to injury.


Application of metal roof systems usually involves cutting, punching, drilling or bending metal, which can produce sharp edges, shavings or shards. To comply with standards for PPE established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), you must supply workers with the necessary PPE for the risks involved and ensure they use it. For metal work, safety glasses, goggles or face shields are necessary. Verify the purchased product has been manufactured to meet the American National Standards Institute's (ANSI's) impact- and penetration-resistance requirements for eye protection. Compliance with the ANSI Z87.1 eye-protection standard will be marked on the glasses' frame, head strap or lens. Even greater impact protection is indicated by the ANSI Z87+ voluntary standard. Eye protection meeting that standard can withstand a higher velocity impact than the basic impact protection of ANSI Z87.1.

Hand injuries from cuts, punctures and abrasions can be avoided by giving workers gloves woven with Kevlar® or stainless-steel fibers. Often, these gloves have rubberized palm coatings for gripping slick or polished metal surfaces. Costs vary but typically are around $4 - $7 per pair—somewhat higher than a good leather work glove. Similarly, constructed sleeves worn from the wrist over the elbow offer added protection for about $2 - $3 each.

Electricity also can be a serious hazard on any roofing project and must be addressed when handling metal panels, gutters, downspouts and other metal products that could contact power lines, service drops, electrical cords or energized contacts. Pneumatic tools for drilling, cutting or setting screws into metal material can eliminate part of that risk. Use of ground fault circuit interrupters with all electric power tools also enhances worker safety. Tell workers power lines and service drops must be approached with extreme caution if the lines or drops cannot be de-energized by an electric company. Nonconductive shrouds can provide some measure of protection when electrical lines are obstructing work areas.

Soldering of seams and joints when installing copper products can produce fumes from the solder or flux used to clean a metal surface. When workers are outside, this usually is not a serious concern, but you must be aware of OSHA's permissible exposure limits (PELs) if workers use solder containing lead. When lead PELs are exceeded, or if an employee requests one, a respirator must be provided.


OSHA rules require any worker who is on a working surface 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level to be protected from falling by guardrails, safety nets or personal fall-arrest systems.

However, in June 1999, OSHA published interim fall-protection guidelines for residential construction that allowed the use of a safety-monitoring system in lieu of other systems in certain cases. Under those rules, workers on metal roofs with slopes of 8-in-12 (34 degrees) or less and eave heights of 25 feet (7.6 m) or less could be protected from falling by a safety-monitoring system only. On greater slopes or eave heights or strictly commercial projects, conventional fall protection must be used.

Residential construction for purposes of the interim rules is characterized by wood framing, floor joists and roof structures using traditional wood-framing techniques. Discrete portions of a commercial structure (not the entire building) may fit within the "residential" definition under this rule. As an example, a wood-framed entrance to a mall could qualify as residential construction to allow for use of a safety monitor as the only fall-protection system if other qualifying factors are met. However, you must determine whether the interim rule provision for metal roof applications sufficiently addresses the fall-protection requirements for your workers on a project.

Recognizing risk

Metal roofs add unique aesthetics to structures on which they are installed. Safe installation of a metal roof requires you to assess some unique risks inherent to the product. Proper equipment, work practices and knowledge of OSHA rules are factors that, when combined effectively, can make any project run smoothly, safely and injury-free.

Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of risk management.


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