Working At Height On Fragile Surfaces
Working at height is a risky business, even here in the UK where there are stringent rules and regulations to be followed that have been designed to minimise the risk of injury. Those in the construction business (employers and employees), building owners and occupiers need to follow these regulations in order to comply with legislation. One of the most dangerous types of work that can be undertaken is working on fragile surfaces. Falls through fragile roofs and fragile roof lights are often the cause of serious injury or even death and account for a fifth of all fatal accidents which are the result of a fall from height in the construction industry here in the UK.
Most deaths that are caused by a fall through a fragile surface take place amongst those working in the building maintenance sector. These falls generally occur when workers are carrying out small, short term maintenance or cleaning jobs. Most of these falls take place when working on the roofs of factories, farm buildings and warehouses when repair work or cleaning tasks are being undertaken.
The following surfaces are likely to be fragile and present a particular risk:
- Old roof lights
- Old liner panels on built-up sheeted roofs
- Corroded metal sheets
- Non-reinforced fibre cement sheets
- Glass (including wired glass)
- Slates and tiles
- Rotted chipboard
If you are a building owner or occupier there are certain issues to consider before any work is started:
- Ensure that the work is properly planned in advance by a contractor who is experienced in working on fragile roofs.
- Ensure that a competent person completes an assessment of the roof using a safe system of work.
- Specify non-fragile assemblies for new and replacement roofs.
- Ensure that the contractors undertaking the work have allowed enough time to carry out the work safely.
A SAFE SYSTEM OF WORK
If possible, try to avoid workers having to go on the roof at all by providing a method that allows profiled roof sheets or roof lights to be replaced from below using a suitable work platform.
If the work cannot be done from below, then consider using a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) that enables workers to carry out tasks from a basket without standing on the roof.
If access to a fragile roof cannot be avoided in this way, then the following steps will need to be taken:
- Installation of perimeter edge protection and stagings on the roof surface to spread the loads.
- Installation of guard rails on all the work and access stagings and platforms, or
- Installation of safety nets underneath the roof or provision of a harness system, and
- When using harnesses, make sure that they have sufficient anchorage points (fall protection posts) and that these are properly used.
Remember that safe systems of work must also be planned and followed to protect the people who are installing these safety measures.