Blog / The danger of unprotected skylights
31 October 2017
Falls from height are one of the largest contributors to workplace deaths in the UK, thanks to the inherent danger of working at height and the often unclear requirements and responsibilities for those who carry out the work.
Unprotected skylights are one of the biggest contributors to work at height injury and death statistics. People often mistakenly believe skylights are safe, assuming that designers wouldn’t specify a product which would not prevent a fall if it came to it.
Though skylights are legally required to be able to take the weight of a person when installed, weather and UV damage can quickly degrade the skylight’s protective layers, rendering it brittle and unsafe.
Older-style skylights can even become discoloured and blend in with the roof, making them effectively invisible, and an even greater risk.
Falls through skylights are behind a fifth of all fatal working at height accidents, and though it is vital to ensure they are fully protected and squared away, many are not, leaving them open and putting those who access the roof - both legally and illegally - at risk of serious injury or death.
The most common reason for skylights being left unprotected is, predictably, cost and effort.
An 18-year-old male sheet metal helper died after he fell through a skylight opening to a concrete floor 33 feet below. The victim was working in a crew replacing corrugated metal roof sheeting, and installing chain-link fencing material on top of fiberglass panels used as skylights.
The fencing material was, ironically, being installed to eliminate the hazard of falls posed by the fiberglass skylights, as three months earlier a worker on the same site had fallen to his death through one of them.
When the supervisor ordered the crew to stop work temporarily, they moved toward a vent stack to warm themselves. As they moved, the victim stepped on one of the unguarded skylights and fell through it. He died at the hospital two hours later.
There are several options available to reduce the risk skylights pose and the first is by far the simplest: avoid going onto the roof wherever possible. The work at height hierarchy of controls prioritises this over all other forms of protection.
When it comes specifically to the skylight, keep in mind that sheets and skylights can often be replaced from underneath using a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) or a tower scaffold.
The Kee Cover® range of roof light protection has been designed specifically for use on metal profile roofs and provides an effective solution for protecting roof lights and skylights without blocking the light into the building.
The Kee Dome® range has been designed specifically to provide protection for personnel accessing near to fragile rooflights whilst carrying out maintenance or inspections on a flat roof.
Further options, such as clear demarcated rooftop walkway like Kee Walk are available in addition to Safesite’s full range of Fall Arrest products.
Finally, training, as always, is a vital part of keeping yourself safe when working at height.
Competent workers should be trained to recognise and avoid the dangers of skylights, so even if the correct protection is missing, there is less chance that serious injury - or worse - will occur.
For more information about skylight safety or to find out about the solutions Safesite offers, call our product experts on 01293 529977 or use our contact form.