By Clayton DeKorne. Roofers are deadly serious about safety these days. No one can afford to lose a key guy," says Fred Lugano, a Charlotte, Vt., contractor who specializes in "bombproof roofs" for a high-end clientele. Besides endangering a worker, a roofing accident is bad for PR, leaves the job short-handed, demoralizes the crew, raises insurance premiums, and creates paperwork. "There's certainly no profit on a job when there's a serious injury," says Lugano. He and a dozen other reputable roofing specialists suggest implementing the following:

Experience. Greenhorns are most likely to be hurt, so don't put them in risky situations until they have earned their chops.

Hardhats and caution tape. While most roofers agree that hardhats should be worn by a ground crew cleaning up debris when workers are overhead, few use them. Instead, they clean up when no one's overhead. They also string caution tape to prevent someone from unwittingly wandering into the hazard zone.

Rubber soles. Workers wearing soft rubber-soled shoes can walk up roofs shallower than 7:12. On steeper roofs, no shoe will help much. Lug soles may look like they offer good traction, but they'll tear up roofing, particularly the new composition shingles, which are made to stay flexible in cold weather and feel like soft butter in hot weather. If you wear plastic or leather-soled shoes on a roof, you might as well bring ski poles, too, and smile on your way down the slope.

Pump jacks. Residential roofers rarely use guardrails along roof edges, but some set up a barrier using pump jacks with a platform and workbench raised to the height of the eaves.

Slide guards. On roofs sloped between 4:12 and 6:12, roofers follow OSHA's rule for "slide guards"--90-degree roof jacks planked with 2x6s along the entire length of the eaves. The 45-degree roof jacks are more comfortable to work from but won't hold shingles safely and are unlikely to stop someone who gathers speed sliding down the roof. On roofs between 6:12 and 8:12, OSHA calls for slide guards spaced at 8-foot intervals. However, roofers--at least those who are less than 8 feet tall--usually space the jacks about 6 feet apart to make it easy to climb between them.

Tim Murphy Carpentry's niche is wood window replacement.
Courtesy Tim Murphy Carpentry, Inc. Tim Murphy Carpentry's niche is wood window replacement.

Pete Morelewicz Nail roof jacks into rafters and trusses, not just through the sheathing. Some roofers complain that nail quality has slipped and that the nails often have thin or small-diameter heads. These can shear off or slip through the key-hole on a roof jack. If you can't find a stout 16d, opt for 20d nails to secure the jacks. Cleats. Roofers often rely on cleats--2x4s nailed across the roof--before the roofing goes on. Again, use 16d nails into rafters or trusses. Don't leave the ends unfastened. When a cleat fails, it's usually at an end that is too short to reach to the next rafter.

Fall arrest. Above an 8:12 pitch, OSHA calls for fall arrest systems (safety belt or harness, and lanyard). While sometimes used by residential roofers on very steep roofs, many contend the systems present their own hazards to workers unfamiliar with them.

Maneuvering the ropes around material and other workers is the most frequently cited difficulty. Roofers also contend that the peak anchors call for an impossible number of nails buried into solid wood at the ridge. This was often seen simply as a way for manufacturers to limit their liability.

Fall arrest systems work well, roofers say, on ladder jacks and hanging scaffolding. Here, a lanyard and safety belt provide a versatile way to keep workers safe as they work the eaves along the length of a plank, and the combination is often less restrictive than a guardrail.

Lifting aids. Back injuries are one of the most common causes of lost work time in all trades. If you're smart, say roofers, have materials delivered on a lift- or boom-truck.

Back belts. These serve mainly as a reminder to lift safely--bend at the knees, keep your back straight, and hold the load close to your body.

Some roofers, though, admitted back belts tend to make young guys feel even more immutable and might actually cause them to lift more than they should. That, in turn, could cause more injuries --Clayton DeKorne is a business and science writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.