We all know rooftops are dangerous and - for the most part - we all take care of ourselves when accessing them to carry out work.
However, there’s another danger lurking, waiting to catch you out, even if you take all reasonable precautions: fragile roofs.
Statistics show more falls actually happen through the roof rather than over the edge. In fact, the HSE estimates that 22% of all fall injuries happen as a result of fragile roofs.
What are the different types of fragile roof, and what can you do to keep yourself and your workers safe wherever fragile roof work is carried out?
Fragile Roof Types
Fundamentally, a fragile roof is a roof that will not take the weight of a person, making any work or access unsafe.
Different types of fragile roofs include:
- Fibre-cement sheets: (non-reinforced sheets)
- Rooflights or skylights: especially those in the roof plane or painted/faded panels that can be hard to see
- Liner panels: on built-up sheeted roofs
- Metal sheets: where corroded
- Glass: including wired glass
- Chipboard or other similar material
- Roof gutters
- Wood wool slabs, slates, tiles and more
Unless you are absolutely certain that the roof you are working on will take the weight of a person, you should assume that you are dealing with a fragile roof and act accordingly.
Overcoming Fragile Roofs
As with any roof work or work at height, the key to ensuring safety is taking the right precautions from the get-go. Health and safety legislation requires all efforts be taken by employers to mitigate risk, right from the planning stages, which usually begins with carrying out a comprehensive risk assessment to identify the dangers posed and the best way to overcome them.
The hierarchy of steps to be followed - no matter the duration of the work - according to the HSE, are:
- Avoidance: if you can completely avoid having to physically access the roof, do so. This includes working from a mobile elevated work platform or similar.
- Control: implement the right control measures, whether this is a guardrail system to protect workers from accessing the fragile roof area, lifeline systems, or temporary work access platforms/walkways to ensure safety. Again, it’s the responsibility of employers and managers to put the right safety systems in place.
- Communicate: clearly communicate all control measures with signage or intra-company communications such as emails and talks. Remember: only those with the right temperament, training, and competency levels should be carrying out risky work.
- Co-operate: ensure contractors work closely with the client and agree on arrangements for managing the risks, which will help make sure everyone follows the rules.
Fragile roof work is undoubtedly dangerous, combining the inherent risk of work at height with the unreliability and unpredictability of the roof itself. Thankfully, by following the legislation - and using a touch of common sense - you can mitigate the risk and ensure everyone goes home safely.