Why you need to tread carefully on fragile roofs


By Soni Sheimar, General Manager, Easi-Dec

Every year nine people on average fall to their deaths from fragile roofs or through roof lights. Many more suffer serious, life-changing injuries.

Falls through fragile roofs or materials usually occur on the roofs of factories, warehouses and farm buildings where workers are carrying out repairs, maintaining or installing equipment, cleaning gutters and skylights, or whilst carrying out general roof work.   All these accidents are fully avoidable through careful planning and ensuring safe working procedures.

roof safety

What is a fragile surface?

Work on fragile surfaces is high risk, and as a result, the HSE requires that effective precautions are taken for any form of work on or near fragile surfaces.  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.

Access onto a roof is often required for maintenance, inspection, cleaning or general repairs.   Fragile surfaces such as the ones we are reading about are typically found on factories and warehouses and can include:

·     Roof lights and skylights

·     Corroded metal sheets

·     Non-reinforced fibre cement sheets

·     Roof slates and tiles

·     Glass such as wired glass

How to tread carefully

The principles of working on fragile surfaces are exactly the same as any other form of work at height, so if you apply the hierarchy of control you should be able to ensure that the work can be carried out safely. 

In an ideal world, the preferred option is to avoid working at height, but as we all know this isn’t always possible, so the next consideration would be to look at methods which would allow work to be carried out without actually stepping onto the roof itself, such as MEWPs.

If access onto the fragile roof cannot be overcome then you will need to look at how the area can be accessed safely and then put into place measures that can alleviate the distance and consequences of a potential fall.   

This can be done in a number of ways, such as protecting the edge of the roof with guardrail, using staging or platforms with edge protection on the roof to spread the load or by protecting fragile roof lights and skylights with a cover to prevent access onto the surface itself.  

roof safety

When access is needed to run from the eaves to the ridge, mesh walkways could be used to spread the weight across the support battens so that workers can safely move along the full length of the systems.

Lightweight mobile walking frames on the other hand are ideal for maintenance of valleys and box gutters on fragile roofs and can provide safe access for up to two people.

A responsible approach

Falls through fragile surfaces account for nearly a fifth of all fatalities as a result of a fall from height in the construction industry.  The worker in the case I highlighted at the start of this post was lucky in that he survived.  However he did suffer serious injuries to his back and sternum and wore a full body brace for six weeks following the incident.

Companies have a legal duty to ensure they have done all they can to prevent accidents and with the range of products available today, particularly for working on fragile materials, there really is no reason for these accidents to still be happening.

For more information, visit www.easi-dec.co.uk

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