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Don’t Take the Risk When it Comes to Skylights

Conducting any work at height comes with the risk of a fall if adequate measures, in line with latest legislation, aren’t taken.

Conducting any work at height comes with the risk of a fall if adequate measures, in line with latest legislation, aren’t taken. Skylights and fragile roofs are an all too frequent cause of fall from height, either because the person wasn’t aware that it was fragile, or, in the case of a roof light, it was covered with moss and other debris.

With roofers now making up nearly a quarter of all workers killed in falls from height, more emphasis is being placed on rooftop safety, with the HSE imposing larger fines and, in some cases, prison sentences.

Falls through fragile roofing materials, such as unreinforced polycarbonate roof lights, cause around 7 deaths each year for those working at height. It is the responsibility of the employer, building manager, building owner or other duty holder to prevent these unnecessary and avoidable tragedies.

Whilst many roofers perceive the roof edge to be the biggest threat of danger, the risk of standing on a skylight is often overlooked. Due to weathering and even UV damage, skylights can become extremely brittle and weak, although this can be visibly unclear. They may even become discoloured, making them hard to spot, or covered in leaves, moss and other debris. As a result, workers often aren’t aware they are stepping on a fragile skylight until it is too late.

It isn’t just skylights that are a danger. Older fibre cement sheets, manufactured before polypropylene reinforcement strips became widely used, can weather over time, reducing their thickness, and making them weaker in the process. Many are simply unable to support the weight of a person and again it is impossible to tell which sheets have the reinforcing strips and which don’t. In these situations, our roofing walkway systems can provide the most effective method of dealing with the risk. Our free site survey will be able to advise you of how to reduce these risks.

To reduce the number of deaths and injuries from falls through fragile roofs and roof lights, the HSE has toughened regulations. The Health and Safety in Roof Work (HSG33) regulation now states that every skylight should have guards in the form of standard skylight covers or fixed standard railing on all exposed sites. Failure to comply with these changes in regulations could result in hefty penalties, prosecution or even jail time for any employer, building manager or owner.

The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008, which came into force on 16 January 2009, raised the maximum possible fine in a magistrates’ court for this type of breach from £5,000 to £20,000. In only March of this year, two roofing companies were fined after a worker fell 9 metres through a skylight. After the investigation found nothing in place to control the risk of working at height on a fragile roof, one of the companies was fined a hefty £112,000, with the other receiving a fine of £35,000.

Here at Heightsafe Systems, we are experts in skylight protection and our skylight covers help to prevent falls through acrylic dome and corrugated fibreglass. Unlike many other safety products, installing a skylight screen can completely eliminate the hazard.

The Heightsafe Systems team can also visit your site and provide you with a full fall protection solution following a detailed Risk Assessment by our team of specialists, who are trained in work at height. Our free of charge site surveys ideally suit buildings where there is only a small roof area, for which you would receive a report with our recommendations to rectify the issues, which may include advice on skylight protection.

If you would like some more information about our skylight protection services and free roof survey, please get in touch on 020 3819 7199, or contact us online.

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