By Jason Godfrey, Safesite General Manager
Nine people on average fall to their deaths through roof lights or from fragile roofs each year. Many more suffer serious, life-changing injuries.
Accidents like these usually occur on the roofs of factories, warehouses and farm buildings, with workers often falling through the roof whilst repairing, maintaining or installing equipment, cleaning gutters and skylights, or even while surveying the roof for work to be done.
These falls quite often change, and even end, lives, even though there are some very simple steps which can be taken to avoid them.
As the owner or occupier of a building, you are responsible for roof maintenance and repairs. If you think you may have a fragile roof, there are a few simple steps you can take to meet those responsibilities.
A roof is considered fragile if it is not strong enough to support a person’s weight. This includes:
Old roof lights (sometimes painted)
Non-reinforced fibre cement sheets
Asbestos cement sheets
Corroded metal sheets
Glass (including wired glass)
Slates and tiles in poor condition
Make sure whoever you ask to do work on a fragile roof (whether a company or an individual) is experienced and aware of the risks.
Allow the company/individual time to plan the work – even in ‘emergency’ situations – and tell them about the type, condition and history of the roof as well as its accessibility inside and outside.
An example of a fragile roof. Credit: Safesite
Ask them to describe verbally or in a method statement how they will do the work, for example:
– Whether roof sheets and skylights can be replaced from underneath
– What access equipment will be used
– If necessary, how they will get on and off the roof
– How falls through the roof will be prevented, eg using boards with guard rails
– How your own employees will be protected from falling material.
Be prepared to stop the work if the contractors don’t keep to their method statement or the work looks unsafe.
What can happen if these simple steps are ignored?
A 48-year-old worker was killed after falling through the fragile roof of a warehouse to the concrete floor below whilst cleaning the guttering. It was discovered his employer had not provided any safety equipment to prevent falls.
The client, a logistics firm, knew the roof was fragile, but ignored its own health and safety guidelines and allowed the work to continue. Both the client and the employer were prosecuted. The client was fined £250,000 and had to pay £20,000 costs. The employer received a four-month prison sentence, suspended for one year.
Good to know:
HSE now recovers the costs of time spent dealing with material breaches of health and safety law. This is known as Fee for Intervention (FFI). FFI generally applies when an inspector finds something wrong that they believe is serious enough for them to write to you about. A fee is charged for the time spent by the inspector in sorting it out.