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September 1990, Vol. 113, No. 9

Profiles in safety and health: roofing and sheet metal work

Martin E. Personick

...When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
Down will come baby, cradle and all.

              -Mother Goose's Melody (c. 1765)

I n nursery rhymes and real life, falls sound an ominous note of human fragility, which, if unheeded, can lead to serious injury. Yet, despite the imminent danger, working at heights without adequate fall protection is fairly commonplace today, especially in the construction industry and, in particular, in roofing and sheet metal work.1 This risky work practice goes far to explain why falls are the leading type of injury and illness in the roofing industry, constituting roughly three-tenths of all its serious cases of injury and illness reported.2

According to safety and health experts, most accidents in roofing work, as in other industrial settings, are preventable if employers and employees follow safe work procedures. To this end, government, labor, and industry have been working to reduce the risks of roofing injuries through stepped-up inspections and monitoring of worksite conditions and through comprehensive safety training. Their accident prevention efforts go beyond just reducing fall hazards in that they also address proper handling of equipment, materials, and industrial substances. But even with adequate protection from falls in place,3 roofing industry workers would continue to face the potential hazards of material handling and other tasks commonly associated with construction (such as strenuous manual work performed under variable weather conditions and, often, against tight timetables).

This excerpt is from an article published in the September 1990 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.

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1 Roofing and sheet metal work has been designated group number 176 in the Standard Industrial Classification  Manual, 1972 edition, 1977 supplement of the Office of Management and Budget. The industry includes special trades construction, contractors primarily engaged in the installation of roofing, siding, and associated sheet metal work. The latter industry does not include sheet metal work  performed in the installation of plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning equipment; such contractors, outside the scope of this study, are classified in group number 171 of the same Manual.
      Throughout this article, the terms "roofing and sheet metal work" and  "roofing" are used interchangeably to denote all the industry's workers, not just its roofers and sheet metal workers.

2 This figure is based on the Bureau's Supplementary Data System as fully described in footnote 17. By comparison, falls were slightly more than one-fifth of all cases recorded in the Supplementary Data System in construction and one-sixth of those in private industries as a whole.

3 Fall protection comes in three basic categories: (1) motion-stopping systems, such as guardrails, secured covers over rook openings, and anchored body harnesses; (2) warning line systems, commonly erected on belt-high stanchions that enclose a work area at a safe distance from the roof's sides/edges; and (3) safety monitoring systems that permit an experienced person to watch and warn all employees in a roofing crew, for example, when someone is working in an unsafe manner near the roof's edge.

Related BLS programs
Safety and Health Statistics
Related Monthly Labor Review articles
Profiles in safety and health:
Eating and drinking places.June 1991. 
Fabricated structural metal.Dec. 1991.
Hotels and motels.July 1993. 
Injuries and illnesses among bituminous and lignite coal miners.Oct. 1993. 
Pilots and flight attendants.Apr. 1992. 
Soft drink industry.Apr. 1992. 

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