Working Safely on Fragile Roofs
By Mark Dolan, General Manager, Roof Edge Fabrications
There has been a lot of press coverage recently about falls through fragile materials, particularly fragile skylights.
Falls through fragile surfaces, such as rooflights and fibre-cement roofs are one of biggest causes of serious injuries as a result of falls from height. Work on fragile surfaces is high risk and as a result the HSE requires that effective precautions are taken for all work on or near fragile surfaces, no matter how short the duration. Accidents can be avoided as long as suitable equipment is used and those carrying out the work are provided with adequate information, training and supervision.
Simple steps to avoiding accidents
As with any form of work at height, you need to follow the hierarchy of control when working on fragile surfaces. The best option is to avoid working at height entirely; this could be done by working from below using a suitable working platform. If this isn’t possible then MEWPs should be considered as these allow work to be carried out without actually having to step onto the roof itself, provide edge protection and a safe working platform. Anyone using this type of equipment will of course need appropriate training.
If access onto the fragile surface is unavoidable then you need to look at how you can access the area safely and alleviate the fall distance and consequences. This can be done in a number of ways, for example:
- protecting the perimeter of the roof with edge protection
- using stagings or platforms with guardrails on the roof surface to spread the loads.
- protecting fragile areas such as rooflights with covers to prevent access onto the surface
If the above are not possible then you should consider
- installing safety nets underneath the roof, or
- using a harness system. However, anyone using a harness system must be fully trained in both correct usage and inspection of the system and adequate anchorage points must be provided.
Being a responsible building owner
Preventing a fall is not the sole responsibility of the person carrying out the work. Companies and building owners have a duty to ensure that anyone they hire is competent to carry out the work safely and that the work is planned properly. Ideally the person carrying out the work would also be able to demonstrate their competency in working on fragile surfaces.
Tackling the issue
With more than one in five fatalities in construction involving falls through fragile material, it’s essential that companies ensure they have done all they can to prevent an accident. Falls can easily be prevented with careful planning, proper training, suitable equipment and appropriate supervision.