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Preventing falls from fragile roofs

When working in the construction and building maintenance industry, falls from fragile roofs happen all too often. Their consequences can be very serious and far reaching both for the individual involved and for the business. At its worst it can result in death or life changing injuries with the threat of a corporate manslaughter charge.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an average of 7 people are killed each year after falling through a fragile roof or roof light. However, with the correct health and safety measures in place, serious injuries and fatalities can be prevented.

A fragile covering includes roof lights, older non-reinforced fibre cement sheets, corroded metal sheets, glass (including wired glass), asbestos sheets, slates and tiles. The point is it is not always possible to tell if a roof is fragile or not, that’s why the best course of action is to assume that they all are.

As an employer or building manager, failure to comply with HSE regulations when allowing employees to work on fragile roofs can result in large fines. Recently, a roofing firm and a senior manager of the company were fined for safety failings following an incident in which an employee fell when working on a fragile roof, suffering life changing injuries.

The HSE recommends that work on fragile roofs should be adapted, if possible, to allow the work to be carried out from underneath the roof itself. However, if work on a fragile roof cannot be avoided, operating alongside a work at height and fall arrest specialist like Heightsafe Systems can ensure that correct safety measures, in line with legislation, are put in place to help prevent or minimize the risk of a fall.

Brittle and weathered roof lights are a common cause of falls through fragile roofs.  Through age and weathering, these elements are prone to cracking, so stepping on one can cause them to break completely. The dangers of falling through a roof is exacerbated by certain roof coverings, for example, semi-transparent or opaque polycarbonate sheets, especially older specifications without reinforcing, give a false sense of solidity. Weather conditions such as frost, UV discolouration, leaves and moss can also make identifying roof lights challenging. This can make it extremely difficult for those accessing a roof to distinguish between surfaces that are safe to work on and those that aren’t.

Preventative measures

An effective way of reducing the dangers of working on a fragile roof is the installation of a fully compliant walkway system. Installing a non-slip or anti slip roofing access walkway, either temporarily or permanently, can help to reduce the amount of foot traffic directly on a roof, which in itself can reduce the risk of it becoming fragile through tiny stress fractures over time. A walkway system works by distributing the weight of the person evenly over a much larger surface area, including structural loadbearing elements such as purlins, rafters and beams.

Heightsafe Systems offers two variations of walkways; the uPVC Access Walkway and the Aluminium walkway. The GRP walkway system is installed with a safety line to a profile metal deck roof and the Aluminium walkway is constructed of heightdek industrial flooring and grille systems.

Our Skylight Covers also prevent falls through acrylic domes and corrugated fibreglass skylights. Installing these passive skylight protection systems can completely eliminate this particular hazard.

Remember this before you next go onto a roof:

Here are three some startling facts to bear in mind before you next allow anyone on your roof:

  1. Many workers have been killed or seriously injured who were only meant to be on the roof for a few minutes ‘to have a quick look’ or to carry out a small repair.
  1. Falls account for more deaths and serious injuries in construction than anything else and roofers account for 24% – the biggest category of worker by far – of those people who are killed in all falls from height.
  1. Falls don’t just occur through fragile roof materials and skylights – they also occur from roof edges and through gaps or holes in roofs. Make sure you have the right protection in place and always wear appropriate and compliant PPE.

Working on a roof can be dangerous. At Heightsafe Systems we are a specialist provider of safety solutions and we work hard to ensure that the risks that are present when working at height are eliminated.

For more information on how we can ensure your employees are safe when working at height on a fragile roof, contact Heightsafe Systems on: 020 3819 7199 or contact us here.

10th October 2016 2:20 pm

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