Working on fragile roofs
“Since 2011 fourteen people have lost their lives in Ireland while carrying out roof-work. This makes for stark reading as all of the fatalities were preventable. Moreover many people have suffered serious accidents, including permanent and life-changing disabilities.Have you ever been tempted to climb onto a roof to fix a tile or slate or to repair a leak?
Roof-related accidents can happen anywhere. However the statistics show that they are particularly prevalent in the construction and agricultural sectors. They occur on the roofs of factories and houses, warehouses and farm buildings, and often when minor repair work, maintenance or cleaning is being carried out.
So while climbing onto a roof may seem like a quick and easy way to do a minor repair job or clean a roof light, it is fraught with danger and should be avoided at all costs.
In May 2016, the Authority issued a safety alert to highlight the need for stringent health and safety procedures when carrying out work on fragile roofs. The alert, which was prompted by the sharp increase in fatalities, identified the surfaces that present particular risks as well as the key steps to avoid accidents.
A fragile roof is one in which part of the roof can be easily broken or shattered. The Authority’s Code of Practice for Safety in Roof-work identifies fragile surfaces as roof-lights and perspex sheeting, linear sheets on built up roofs, unreinforced cement sheets (including asbestos cement sheeting), glass (including wired glass), wood wool slabs and any other similar fragile roofing material. Roof-lights are a particular risk because they can be hard to identify due to weathering conditions or because they are sometimes painted over.
So how can accidents arising from working on fragile roof surfaces be prevented? Firstly, before carrying out any work at a height, a comprehensive site specific written risk assessment should be carried out by a competent person. This should clearly identify all hazards including fragile roofs.
When carrying out roof-work near fragile surfaces it is important to ensure the work is well-planned so that workers are kept away from the hazard. This may involve carrying out work from below the fragile surface by using either a suitable working platform or a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) where possible.
Training is also critical. The SOLAS Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) provides training in certain roofing activities, namely roof cladding, PVC built up roof felt and bitumen built up roof felt.
Fragile roof accidents can also be prevented by abiding by the Authority’s Code of Practice, displaying warning signs at access points to the roof and clearly marking all fragile parts to prevent entry.
So in summary:
- pre-plan all roofing activities,
- use suitable equipment for the job and make sure its properly maintained,
- engage trained and experienced workers who are competent in carrying out this aspect of work safely and
- ensure a high level of supervision by competent staff.
And above all, let’s save lives and prevent serious accidents by ensuring that work on fragile roofs is carried out safely.”
Courtesy Of The Health & Safety Authority.