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Working Safely on Fragile Roofs

Working Safely on Fragile Roofs
Guy Pearce - Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Falls from heights still continue to be one of the biggest causes of serious injury or fatality in the workplace. Safe Work statistics show that falls contribute to the death of one person and serious injury of about 300 workers every two weeks.

Most of us understand that working with two metres of an exposed edge requires the use of a fall arrest harness system. But what about the hidden dangers. As they can be hard to identify, working on or around fragile or brittle surfaces exposes workers to a risk of a fall through a surface, that may normally be considered safe.

Recent reports out of the UK state that falls through fragile surfaces, particularly fibre-cement roofs and roof lights, account for 22% of all fall from height fatal injuries in the construction industry. This has been highlighted in South East Queensland by a recent fatal accident as well as a number of serious falls including one of about 14m.

As they can be hard to identify, working on or around fragile or brittle surfaces exposes workers to a risk of a fall through a surface, that may normally be considered safe.

Safe Work Australia noted that there are several materials which present a greater risk of becoming fragile. These include asbestos roofing sheets, polycarbonate or plastic, fibre cement sheets, wood slabs, glass and metal sheets. This is certainly not an exhaustive list with the authority stating that “all roofs should be treated as fragile until a competent person has confirmed they are not”.

Likewise, skylights are not designed to support the weight of a person and they should always have guardrail protection, skylight protectors or safety wire mesh installed. Corrugated polycarbonate sheeting is not usually of structural grade nor suitable to walk upon and it can be further weakened by ultraviolet light.

Control measures to prevent injury from work on fragile roofs are similar to methods used for roof work more generally, including using:

  • An elevating work platform so workers can avoid standing on the roof itself
  • Barriers such as guardrails or covers that are secured and labelled with a warning
  • Guardrails fitted to all work and access staging or platforms
  • A harness system with adequate anchorage points, along with appropriate training and supervision.

Care must be taken if safety mesh is relied on for fall protection. You must ensure it:

  • Conforms to AS/NZS 4389:2015 Roof safety mesh
  • Is installed by a competent person in a safe manner and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Has its integrity inspected by a competent person prior to roof maintenance or removal

Permanent warning signs should be installed at every likely access point to the roof warning of the presence of fragile roofing materials.

Height Dynamics are height safety specialists and have a variety of solutions available to provide fall prevention on fragile surfaces. From the installation of skylight covers, walkways and anchor systems to the supply of temporary anchors and fall arrest harness systems Height Dynamics can keep you and your employees safe from a fall.

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