Roof cleaning is an essential service. Maintenance of your roof will extend the service life of one of the most expensive parts of your home's structure, not to mention maintain the appearance. These days, there are a lot of guys jumping on the roof cleaning bandwagon. You see listings on Craigslist, you see signs posted, you get mailers and flyers and postcards (Oh My!)
So...how do you choose? What criteria do you use to select a good roof cleaner? Well, beyond the obvious (licensed, bonded and insured), knows the infestations on your roof, uses no brooming/scraping or pressure washing...and a member of the RCIA Roof Cleaning forum (a Premier Member, even better!)...there IS one thing you can use to help differentiate a true professional from the amateur.
Roof cleaning is an inherently dangerous business. Nearly every roof cleaner has had a "moment". Roofs are inherently slippery places which are high off the ground. In the battle between you and gravity...the fundamental force wins. Roof accidents in general account for a very high percentage of industrial accidents and fatalities. It is for this reason that OSHA has set very stringent standards for safety. A true professional roof cleaner will follow those standards. And while not every OSHA regulation makes perfect sense (it IS a Government agency after all!), there are some good, common sense safety standards and practices that every professional roof cleaner should follow and that you as the customer should ask about.
First...if your property is over 1 story, and the roof cleaner needs to go onto your roof, do they use safety harnesses? Particularly on a steep roof. While many roofs can be cleaned from the gutter line, there will be times when you simply cannot effectively clean some portions of the roof from the side and it requires roof access. It is those times when safety harnesses and proper safety anchors come into play.
By law, your are supposed to be anchored on ANY roof. But the laws are being changed as it does not necessarily make sense to be anchored up on a 6' 4/12 pitch roof. However...IF the roof cleaner needs to step on your 2 or higher story roof, they should be anchored. Do they install safety anchors if they are not there? Safety anchors are the only approved method for harnessing up on a roof. Not a tree/bumper/deck/chimney/etc. A permanent safety anchor provides the best placement and attachment point in case there is a slip or fall. Your cleaner may use a temporary anchor which is nailed or screwed to the roof, then removed before leaving with the holes being sealed with a permanent roof sealant. Some may utilize a pipe anchor which slips into a vent stack pipe...assuming there is one there which allows proper positioning. These are sketchy for any pitch about 6/12 in my experience.
IF anchors need to be installed, should you as the client expect to pay for them? If they are permanent, YES. Absolutely. They are a value added addition to your home. They take time to install and have a cost to them. It is absolutely fair to expect the Roof Cleaner to be paid for the time and materials needed to install them. If your roof cleaner does not do anchor installations, chances are they work with a local roofing contractor who can install them for you. It is a good idea to have them on your roof if it is high and/or steep. All commercial buildings should have them...but commercial anchors may not be installed by the Roof Cleaner. Flat roofs or TPA/Membrane roofs require a roofing contractor to install anchors in order to maintain the integrity of the seal. You should inquire.
Next...safety harnesses should be worn when anchored. Putting the rope around your waist is NOT acceptable and will lead to serious, likely fatal internal injuries if the worker goes over the edge. A proper safety harness attached to a shock absorbing lanyard is the standard. These days, they are easy to wear and very comfortable so there is no excuse for not having one.
Next...Ladder Safety. Ladder falls are one of the other biggies in the industrial accident world. A fall even off a 6' ladder can be fatal. A roof cleaner should always use something called a ladder stabilizer/standoff. This stabilizes the ladder on the roof and keep the ladder off the gutters. Bent gutters are the sign of an amateur. Also, gutters are inherently slippery and provide a poor place to lean a ladder against. A standoff is a small investment to make in equipment and if your roof or gutter cleaner does not use one to access the roof line, look elsewhere. Ladders should be placed so they are level. Most good ladders have leg levelers, or levelers can be added. Sorry, a brick or rock does NOT...I repeat...does NOT count as a leg leveler! If the ladder is placed on soil, there are soil spikes at the end of the ladder shoes which should be used.
OSHA regulations call for ladders to stick up 3' beyond the roof line for access when somebody is going onto the roof. Some cleaners will invest in a ladder extender which allows direct access to the roof thru the extender. This is a good idea.
Last but not least, Is the safety equipment in good operating condition? Frayed lines, rusty or bent ladders and bent ladder standoffs are a sign of neglect. None of these tools are that expensive, relative to the cost of a good cleaning...or a fall and subsequent trip to the hospital.