2020 Fatalities for US Roofers Increased 15% as Solar Roof Installations Increase

In the 2020 US Bureau of Labor National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries report, the data shows roofers accounted for 111 of the 5,333 fatal injuries that occurred in 2019. This is up 15% from 2018’s figure of 96.

In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that roofing contractors had a work fatality rate more than 10 times the average rate of work fatalities per year in 2018.

In 2019, this was 51.5 fatal injuries for every 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. By comparison, the average rate across all occupations is 3.5.

The 2020 BLS’ report shows roofer fatal injury rate of 54 per 100,000 workers, up from 51.5 — an increase of nearly 5%. The average rate across all occupations is 3.5, meaning roofing’s fatality rate is roughly 15 times higher than the average.

In roofing, the most common cause of injuries and deaths are fall-related incidents, and is the most cited OSHA violation. According to BLS, 93 of the 111 roofing fatalities were caused by a fall, slip or trip incident. In total, 880 of the deaths in 2019 were due to a fall, slip or trip, an 11% increase from 791.

In 2019, the U.S. had more than two million total solar panel installations. This was three years after surpassing one million solar panel installations, which took 40 years to accomplish.

The US is expected to pass three million total solar installations in 2021 and will go over four million solar panel installations in 2023.

The US is installing about 500,000 solar roofs every year.

In 2020, 912,000 single-family homes completed in the USA and 375,000 multifamily units completed in 2020.

I could not find a report that breaks out roofing deaths that are solar roof, solar panel related and those that are regular roofing work. However, this will be large number statistics, where the number of accidents and deaths for solar roof would be a fraction of the total roof work. This would need to include not just new roof but re-roof or installation of solar panels on old roofs and maintenance work. In 2019, it was about 360,000 solar roof-related installations out of about 1 million new roofs. About 7% of houses are re-roofed each year. This re-roofing fraction stays relatively consistent based upon most roofs lasting 20-30 years. There are 85 million detached houses in the USA and about 20 million multi-unit buildings. There are also commercial buildings. New houses seem to be about 15% of the overall roofing work.

Solar roofs are about 35-40% of new houses and will be about 50% in 2022. California and some other states have mandated that all new houses will have solar. By about 2025, solar will be on all new houses in the USA. Solar-related roofing work for older roofs is about 2% of the roofing work. 4 million roofs by 2024 would be about 5% of residential buildings in the USA.

Solar panel roof paneling should have similar falling risks as regular roof work. This would only be different if the new solar roofing companies have and enforce higher safety standards. I believe Tesla does require its roofing contractors to use safety gear. Tesla currently has a tiny fraction of the solar market.

Solar panel work would have falling risk and higher electrical shock risks. A regular roof would only have electrical risks from overhead power lines.

A rough estimate is that solar roof work was 6-10% of overall roofing work in 2019 and this will increase to 15% by 2025. This would also be the expected share of roofing fatalities.

My expectation is that roofing work outside the USA would have higher fatality rates because of more lax safety regulations. Global roofing work is about 10 times higher than the USA. There are 20 times as many people outside the USA but there are fewer buildings with higher household density. The rate of solar on roofs outside the USA is less. There would be less transparent reporting of workplace accidents in many less developed countries.

If the solar industry doubles the volume of solar work by 2030, then unless roofing safety standards and safety system effectiveness is massively increased then solar would be responsible for half of the roofing deaths. If solar is placed on all new and old roofs by 2040-2050, then almost all roofing work accidents would by solar panel-related accidents.

Currently, 2 million solar roofs that average 6 kw of power generation would be 12 gigawatts of solar power. This would generate about 12 terawatt hours of power each year. 10% of the 111 deaths in roofing deaths in 2020 is 11 solar roofing related deaths in 2020. This would be just short of 1 solar roofing death per 1 terawatt hour.

In 2012, there are sources that calculate 0.44 deaths per terawatt hour for solar from roofs. This is higher than 0.09 deaths per terawatt hour from nuclear and 0.15 deaths per terawatt hour from wind.

Solar from roofing is 5 times deadlier than nuclear but is about 4 times safer than hydro.

SOURCES- BLS, Census, Roof Contractor
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com