Roof Safety: How to Walk on a Steel Roof

If I had a nickel for every time a client has asked me the question, “Can I walk on my steel roof”? I would have several rolls of nickels! My initial thought is always one of, why would anyone want to walk on their roof to begin with? But the answer to the question is – yes!

Steel roofs are the roofing of choice for post frame buildings. Virtually leak-proof and low maintenance, they will provide a lifetime of protection for your valuables.

I grew up in the construction industry. As a teenager, I remember setting 50 foot span roof trusses, on top of three story high walls. It was more than a little nerve-racking. While some of my nerves were just due to the height (close to 50 feet off the ground), my Mount Everest climbing cousin Kim being on top of the opposite wall and running while I struggled to keep up with my size 14 feet contributed as well.

How to walk on a steel roof: here are a few tips to help calm your nerves, if you decide to go roof climbing.

Wear rubber-soled shoes, with good traction. I once owned two identical looking pairs of rubber-soled shoes. One pair was so slick on the bottom, I could barely stand upright on a flat surface.  The other pair gave me the traction I needed. Test the traction somewhere you will not get hurt.

Position the ladder so the top is at least 3 feet above the edge of the roof. This will give you something to hold onto as you climb onto the roof. Also make sure your ladder is as close to the destination on the roof as possible.  It always seems getting up onto the roof is much easier (and less scary) than getting back onto the ladder and down again.

Important sidebar – make sure to place padding between the roof fascia and the ladder. Failure to do so could easily result in bending the edge of the overhanging roof steel.

As you get off the ladder, step slowly and deliberately on your roof, making sure you stay steady.

Walk only on the roof screws, which will help you keep a solid footing. A roof purlin is underneath each screw, and will support your weight. The screws afford extra traction. Purlins are generally spaced every 24 to 32 inches, so try to step from screw line to screw line. Avoid stepping on parts of the roof which are not supported, which can lead to popped seams. Also, do not stand on the high ribs of the steel, as they can be easily dented by your weight.

Walk sideways when moving up or down the roof so you descend the slope gradually. Try to move parallel to the roof’s edge rather than straight up and down.

Consider using a safety harness. A harness will keep you from falling off the roof if you slip.

Most of all… use common sense. Avoid working on a steel roof in wet or cold conditions. Rain, snow and ice will make the roof slippery and increase the chances of an accident. Moss-covered roofs can also be slippery.

Yes, you can walk on your steel roof.  My best advice is for you to make sure everything that “goes up there” (cupolas, weathervanes, etc) is done at time of construction so you never have to go up there again.  With steel roofing, you shouldn’t have to.

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