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Working alone on a roof

working alone on a roof - can you do it?

Working alone on a roof – can you do it?

Working on a roof is never without risk – and working alone on a roof simply adds to that risk. So from a risk management perspective, it’s never something we’d recommend.

Work Health & Safety Regulations are also clear. Working alone on a roof (or anywhere else) is strictly prohibited whenever a fall arrest system is required to keep you safe.

So the short answer (most of the time) is No. It’s not good practice – and it may well be unlawful – to work on your roof alone.

Why is the use of a fall arrest system such a red flag?

The need for a fall arrest harness system indicates that existing fall prevention controls alone are not enough to eliminate the risk of falling. And in the event of a fall, users will likely suffer physical injury. This in turn raises the spectre of needing at least one suitably trained person on-hand to execute an emergency rescue plan – which, of course, cannot be done if you fall whilst working alone.

That’s why a fall arrest system is a regulatory red flag and red line when it comes to working alone on a roof.

Queensland Work Health & Safety Regulations 2011 – Chapter 6.3; Clause 306I (13)Queensland Work Health & Safety Regulations 2011 – Chapter 4.4; Clause 80
If a fall arrest harness system is implemented as a measure to control risk, then that system cannot be used by any person who is aloneIf a fall arrest harness system is implemented as a measure to control risk, then effective emergency procedures must be established and workers must have what they require to implement those emergency procedures. The procedures must be tested so that they are effective

How do I know if a fall arrest system is required for my roof work?

Every site, every roof and every work area is different. So it’s really important to complete a full and accurate risk assessment as the first step. Once all hazards and risks have been evaluated, then you can identify which control measures (potentially including a fall arrest system) are required.

1. Conduct a risk assessment

Methodically assess your roof and work area for potential fall, trip and slip risks. Remember, you can fall through a roof as well as off it – so consider the whole picture in your analysis. Here’s some prompts to get you started:

  • Roof height and angle: A steeply angled roof can be hazardous to work on and may render some fall prevention measures ineffective. The distance of any potential fall will also affect the risk profile of your roof work
  • Roof access: Do you have an internal roof hatch without any guardrails or an external ladder without a safety system? Is a portable ladder required? Do you have to climb over railings to get onto the roof? Then you may not have safe access to and egress from the roof (which is a pre-work regulatory requirement)
  • Damaged roofing: Roofing materials degenerate with age, use and exposure to the elements. So look for any brittle or damaged roof sheets and check that fixings remain in place. Be vigilant also for signs of underlying structural weakness (warped or sagging roof sheets)
  • Fragile roof area: Skylights, skydomes and clear roof sheeting – as well as other penetrating roof plant installations (such as air-conditioning units) – can compromise the surrounding roof area and present very real fall-through risks. Treat these areas as hazardous
  • Insufficient edge protection: A lack of physical barriers – such as perimeter guardrails – leave you exposed to a fall risk whenever you need to work or walk near the roof edge, especially in adverse weather conditions
  • Overhead hazards: On some sites, the hazards are above you, not below. Overhanging power lines are chief among these and present a significant risk to roof workers. Others include overhanging tree branches
  • Environmental conditions: If you work on an exposed site, wild and changeable weather is a likely scnenario. High winds are especially dangerous for roof workers. But rain, hail and dense fog or mists can create hazardous conditions very quickly

Don’t forget to document and detail all of the risks and hazards you’ve identified as part of your Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS)

2. Implement control measures

Along with appropriate height safety PPE, the risks and hazards identified in your assessment may necessitate a variety of control measures. These typically fall into two main categories – fall prevention and fall arrest.

Fall Prevention

Fall prevention controls are designed to prevent any fall from occurring. These include:

  • Perimeter guardrails for edge protection: Permanent or temporary physical perimeter guardrails installed along the roof edge help prevent you from falling off the roof in that location. Note: Perimeter guardrails may not be an effective or reliable control measure on a steeply sloping roof.
  • Access barriers and signage: Barriers help restrict access to hazardous roof areas (ie fragile roof sheets or an unprotected roof opening) and unprotected roof edges (ie where the installation of perimeter guardrails is not practicable). Note: Barriers are a support control measure only and should never be used alone
  • Safety mesh installations: When used with other control measures, securely fixed safety mesh helps prevent internal falls through a roof. Fall through risks are especially common during maintenance or repair work and also near fragile roof areas. Note: Safety mesh is typically only used for fall prevention during construction. Unless certified by a competent person, it should not be relied upon after construction is complete
  • Restraint technique (used with fall arrest system): We always recommend use of the restraint technique – which involves using your fall arrest system to gain access to a work area whilst being physically prevented from reaching any fall risk area (such as the roof edge). Restraint is achieved by ensuring the maximum distance you can travel (with a fully extended lanyard) is shorter than the distance to any fall risk area. Note: The restraint technique alone may not be a sufficient control measure – eg working in a fragile roof area where fall-through risks remain
Fall Arrest

A fall arrest system will not prevent a fall – it can only arrest your fall whilst it is happening. For this reason, fall prevention measures always take priority. However, adding a fall arrest system can be a lifesaver and necessity when fall prevention measures are not practicable or 100% foolproof.

  • Fall arrest system: A fall arrest system should be employed wherever users are exposed to a fall risk and no other controls are viable. Some fall risk areas are obvious – such as working near an unprotected roof edge. Others may present as the user tries to access or exit the roof and/or move to and from the work area. A fall arrest system is designed to stop the user falling an uncontrolled distance and also to reduce and minimise the impact of any fall. Note: Your fall arrest system must be designed and installed by a qualified height safety professional and all users must receive sufficient instruction and training to ensure safe use of the system
3. Mitigate risks in real time

Always remember that risk is dynamic. Even with appropriate planning and safety controls in place, new risks can emerge during the day. A sudden downpour or change in wind direction for example, could change the risk level.

So don’t treat your risk assessment as a box ticking exercise and don’t take your height safety for granted. Stay risk aware and be prepared to re-evaluate and add new control measures on the day if needed.

This also applies to non-physical risks like an unplanned absence. If your colleague has called in sick or been called to another job and you’re left to work alone on a roof, the risk has fundamentally changed. Return to ground level and re-evaluate.

Say No to working alone on a roof

When working at height, the consequences of taking unnecessary risks can be tragic – and working alone on a roof is an unnecessary risk. Even when not unlawful, it still reduces your safety margins and leaves you vulnerable if something should change or go wrong. So why take the risk? Put your safety first and keep it simple. Just say No to working alone on a roof