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The Easi-Dec guide to fragile roofs: part one

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

These accidents usually happen on the roofs of factories, warehouses and farm buildings, workers often fall through the roof whilst repairing, maintaining or installing equipment, cleaning gutters and skylights, or surveying the roof and roofwork.

Though these falls can often change, and even end, lives, they can be easily avoided by following simple tips.

Read on and find out how to keep yourself safe when working at height.

What constitutes a fragile roof?

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

#1 Every roof is fragile, unless you know for certain that it isn’t. Follow this rule and you’ll be on your way to avoiding a horrible accident that can knock you off your feet for weeks, or worse.

#2 Don’t go out onto a fragile roof - or ask any of your employees to - unless you have the right equipment, skills and experience.

#3 Unless you’re a skilled tightrope walker - which you’re probably not - never walk along the line of fixing bolts or along the ridge. In fact, even if you are a skilled tightrope walker, don’t.

#4 Always, always, plan the work - even in emergency situations - by gathering as much information about the roof as you can from the client, owner or occupier for your method statement. Visit the site if possible to see the condition of the roof.

#5 Perhaps most importantly of all, do the work without going onto the roof at all, if possible. Sheets and skylights can often be replaced from underneath using a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) or a tower scaffold. Gutter cleaning can be done from ground level, a MEWP or a tower scaffold.

What can happen if these simple steps are ignored?

A 32-year-old man died after falling 14ft through a fragile warehouse roof to the concrete floor below. The man had been working as part of a team for the contractor, tasked with cleaning the warehouse roof. His co-workers heard a cracking noise before they realised he had fallen through. There were no measures in place to prevent his fall.

The owners of the warehouse were prosecuted and fined £260,000, and the workers’ employer was prosecuted and fined £20,000.

Remember: Easi-Dec has a range of products which are designed to protect people working at height on fragile roofs, or near fragile surfaces. Find out more here.

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