Decades ago, a foreman instructed me in my roofing duties by simply stating, "Keep your feet under you and your ass behind you." I've had worse advice since then.

Decades ago, a foreman instructed me in my roofing duties by simply stating, "Keep your feet under you and your ass behind you." I've had worse advice since then. In 40 years of roofing and construction, I have never slipped and fallen off of a roof deck, and at my age I don't plan on it. I have come close dozens of times but never became airborne. I guess the vast majority -let's say 85 percent - of my near-miss fall events were caused by loss of traction with the pitched walking or working surface. Approximately 25 percent of these incidents occurred when the materials beneath my boots failed to hold fast to the deck, such as a cracked slate or torn roof felt. That means about 60 percent of my total fall-in-place events originated from a low coefficient of friction between the shoe or boot and the roofing or substrate. (In other words, I fell on my butt.)

Undoubtedly the majority of my deck falls occurred while a roof was being stripped off and material such as mineral grit, sawdust, desiccated felt paper, stray nails and shingle "crumbs" added to the difficulties of navigating the inclined surface. They say roofer without a broom isn't a roofer for long, but a roofer with the right footwear is definitely a step ahead.

Dan Cougar developed his Cougar Paws footwear specifically for the roofing industry. The boots feature replaceable foam rubber pads designed to provide better grip on common roof surfaces. (Photo courtesy of Cougar Paws.)

Stuck Like Glue

I bought my first pair of Cougar Paws™ boots about seven years ago, after meeting Dan Cougar at a Northeast Roofing Contractor's trade show in Boston. I still own the same pair today. He had built three small roof samples with 12:12 pitch, which he had on display in the exhibit hall. The first roof sample featured composite shingles, the second slate, and the third corrugated metal. He encouraged me to put on a pair of his boots and climb up the 4-foot-long composite roof sample.

"Now" he said, "Jump up as high as you can." By this time there were a half-dozen onlookers. While I didn't mind the embarrassment of landing on my keister, I certainly didn't want to spend the next day with a posterior road burn. After some encouragement, however, I did jump, but probably not as high as I could have. When I landed it was as if my boots had been suddenly nailed to the deck. Nailed and then welded. After switching the pads on the soles of the boots, I repeated the process with on the slate and metal roofing samples with the same effect. I was astounded. Cougar had to drag me off to let others experience it. These were truly "glue shoes." I was sold on Cougar Paws from that day forward.

Cougar entered the roofing industry in Virginia over 27 years ago and eventually became a mid-size residential/commercial roofing contractor. He realized that the issue of balance and traction for a roofer can have as much to do with productivity as it does with safety. He understood that, in combination, they both ultimately result in greater profit. He concluded that the roofing market was in great need of an economical boot that really addressed these two issues - safety and productivity. One day he noticed a mason using a grout trowel that had a foam pad affixed to the bottom; the pad held it securely in position on the roof. The next day he wore a pair of tennis shoes on the job to which he had glued and stapled foam pads to the soles. He realized he was onto something, and in the months and years that followed he researched the entire foam rubber market. He collected truckloads of samples with which to experiment. He was a man with a mission, and you can trust me when I tell you that his mission is even stronger today. The unique design features and comfortable fit of the Cougar Paw boot have become renowned in both the roofing and insurance industries today.

The majority of Cougar Paw Roofing Boot owners are insurance adjusters making claim inspections throughout the United States and the world. State Farm Insurance has actually mandated the use of Cougar Paws for all of the company's adjusters working in the devastation of this year's gulf coast hurricanes. Next are the roofers, chimneysweeps and home structural inspectors who spend a majority of their time on the roof deck. Many other tradesmen must also go onto a roof for limited times to complete their building tasks including electricians, plumbers, masons, painters, glaziers, insulators, gutter installers and carpenters.

The Design

Edison said that in order to make a light bulb that works your must first make a thousand that do not. As Cougar's boot design evolved, he developed many foam pad designs. His first pad design incorporated closed-cell foam technology, which proved to be more durable but less adhesive than the open-cell variety. During his experimentation, he noticed the best adhesion property was achieved at the expense of durability. After years of R&D, he developed a satisfactory product with the proper combination of cell density and tensile strength. His pads are intended to wear out as they are used. They are easily replaced with new, inexpensive pads, which are held in place by Velcro. Cougar also researched the emerging field of Velcro products being manufactured by Velcro USA. He selected the strongest hook and loop design the company produced to adhere the sole pad to the subsole of the boot. He knew the Velcro had to be as dependable as the foam pad. The body of boot is tough and durable and will last for years of professional use. He filed for a utility patent in 1996 and the first Cougar Paws boot entered the market. Today he has two primary pads: one for composite shingle and another for slate, tile and metal surfaces.

Cougar redesigned the boot in 2000 and he has been stringently improving the safety features, comfort and durability of his roofing boot designs ever since. The semi-rigid sub-sole remains flexible and is well stitched to the upper. It is designed with a narrow edge band around the perimeter, which accurately locates the left and right pads as they are replaced. I have worn my Cougar Paws on scorching summer days and in below-zero weather with equally superior performance. I often wear my Cougar Paws all day long, using a set of used-and-abused "street pads" while walking on oily paving, dusty concrete and wet, rough graded site soils. Whenever I have to access to a roof or other elevated surface I simply install a clean pair of pads and climb. My "street pads" stay in my back pocket until I descend again. The product disclaimer does contain a quite conservative 5-month estimated safe-to-wear period after which "the Velcro could become worn or blunted and the pad slip or disengage from the Velcro." My oldest pair has seen about three years of heavy use, with about six pad changes, and the Velcro is approximately good as new. Of course, the company notes "the user is responsible for inspecting the shoes before each use to ensure the pads are properly attached."

The company's online catalog ( includes a variety of footwear products available including a black, steel-toe boot, a tan Nubuck leather roofing boot, and a comfortable Hi-Top Leather/Fabric boot resembling a light hiking boot. Cougar Paws has also produced a few roofing accessories implementing the same cohesive foam technology. The affordable Kneeling and Shingle Boards are extremely useful for the high-slope roofer (up to 10:12 pitch). The portable Nail Gun pads are 1-inch by 3-inch adhesive-backed cell foam strips, which can be adhered to the sides of any nail gun to keep it stationary on roofs up to a 10:12 pitch.

Cougar Paws boots are available in a variety of styles, including the tan Nubuck leather roofing boot pictured here. All of the styles are designed to incorporate the consumable foam rubber pads for improved grip.

Roofer's Psychology

Now, here's the only problem. I find jobsite safety and productivity to be a hard sell. Sometimes it's like giving away a free root canal operation; unless you need one desperately, who cares? It's particularly frustrating when I get this reaction with a "no-brainer" safety product that's universal, affordable, adaptable, comfortable, simple to don and doff and virtually idiot-proof. If roof access and traverse is made more secure with Cougar Paws, then the squares-per-day application rate is bound to improve and profits rise. So why doesn't every roofer own a pair? My single semester of Introduction to Psychology in 1966 hardly qualifies me for a dissertation on the human factors of risk behavior, but I do know that when I offer a roofing crew free Cougar Paws for a week, I often return to find that the boxes remain unopened. There are so few similar safety products in the marketplace today that you could fit them all into a large suitcase. Therefore, I don't consider market saturation to be an issue. Tough-guy peer pressure may prove to be a negative factor to some degree, but making an intelligent choice is never out of season.

Cougar reminded me of the initial resistance to the full body harness in the late 90s, resolving in their eventual acceptance by the trades in less than 10 years. That analogy might apply. However, everyone in the trades already wears a boot or work shoe. I've encounter hundreds of roofers who may choose to leave their fall protection gear down in their trucks for one reason or another, but every single one of them is wearing boots of some kind on the roof. Why not wear boots that cost the same, weigh the same, look the same, but are far less likely to lead to a slip or fall?

One Part of a Solid Fall Prevention Plan

It is important to emphasize that roofing boots alone do not constitute adequate or compliant fall protection. Cougar Paws are best considered personal protective equipment meant to reduce the loss of traction for the wearer on an elevated walking/working surface. They will help to mitigate the direct causes of some fall accidents but never entirely remove them. It is the obligation of the competent person to develop, design and implement a total, site-specific fall protection/prevention plan for your employer. Keeping in mind the real limitations of Cougar Paws, the user assumes responsibility to inspect the roof surface for excessive snow, ice, water, oil, dust, lichen, algae or loose debris which could reasonably lead to loss of traction or become a trip hazard no matter what type of footwear is used. Obviously any hot work being conducted on or near the roof could also prove hazardous to the user, as the foam pads are not fire resistant. It is only reasonable that roofers pay particular and careful attention to their footwear before accessing or climbing a roof deck.

I honestly believe that Cougar Paw boots remain the most dependable, durable, adaptable and affordable roofing boot in the market today. They certainly meet or exceed the safety footwear needs of both residential and commercial roofers. I have conducted fall prevention training for many individuals in roofing and in other trades, including ironworkers, carpenters, pipe fitters, masons, painters, insulators, laborers and operating engineers, and they have all seen the applicability of Cougar Paws to their occupation as well. Anytime you require a stable stance and positive traction at work, this boot is designed for you. The fact that the soles are consumable actually makes them the most attractive solution. Depending on several contributing factors, some insurance carriers will even reduce their workers' compensation rates charged to roofing contractors if their crews all wear Cougar Paws. Whenever the livelihood and security of myself and my family depends on elevated safe work practices, you can find me securely attached with a personal fall arrest system while wearing my Cougar Paws boots. I get it.