Prevention is better than cure

Wherever there is a risk of a fall occurring, the first line of defence is to provide adequate protection to stop it happening in the first place.

Whether you’re popping up to the roof to ‘have a quick look’ or are planning on being up there all day, the dangers of falling are substantial. For roofers the risks are so woven into the fabric of what we do that it’s just part of the job. Therefore, it’s sadly no surprise that, according to figures from the HSE we account for 24% of those who are killed or seriously injured in falls, far more than any other category of worker.

Thankfully, there are a number of things we can do to mitigate the possibility of an accident happening and in particular the risks from accessing fragile roofs – as these can be hard to spot, especially if an old roof has been painted over or installation of a built-up system is in progress. First step would be to consider whether you actually need to go on the roof at all. For example, ask yourself if you can do inspection work via a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP), telescopic pole, binoculars… or even with a drone?

Whatever the scale of the project you’re working on, when you are working at height, making sure you use the correct equipment and operating procedures can help keep your site a fall-free zone. Here are some of the areas to concentrate on:

GETTING ON AND OFF THE ROOF SAFELY
Ensuring this is done with the minimum of risk is essential. A general access scaffold or tower scaffold (preferably of the stairway design) is best. As an absolute minimum you need a properly secured ladder.

PROVIDING ADEQUATE EDGE PROTECTION
To prevent a fall occurring this should include the following:

  • A main guard rail at least 950mm above the edge
  • A toe board and brick guard where there is risk of objects being kicked off the edge of the platform
  • A suitable number of intermediate guard rails or appropriate alternatives positioned so that there is no gap more than 470mm

Sometimes a roof parapet can provide equivalent protection, but if it doesn’t you need to organise extra edge protection.

ESTABLISHING A SECURE WORKING PLATFORM
Again, in many cases the roof itself will provide this. If it doesn’t, for instance when you’re working on a chimney on a pitched roof, then you need a platform. Sometimes a mobile elevating work platform may be suitable if you can do the work from inside the basket.

SHORT DURATION WORK
This covers any situation where you are on the roof for a matter of minutes rather than hours. Things like inspections, replacing a few roof lights or minor adjustments to flashings all fall into this category. For smaller jobs like these even though it’s not always practical to provide full edge protection, you still need to provide a safe means of access to the roof and for working on it, for example:

  • Use a properly constructed and secured roof ladder on a pitched roof
  • On flat roofs wear a secure harness with a sufficiently short lanyard to prevent the wearer from falling
  • Consider mobile access equipment or proprietary access systems to carry out the necessary work

There are industrial products out there readily available to help you create a safe working environment during installation. An example of this is Filon’s Fixsafe, a patented rooflight replacement system which you can fit from inside the building, saving you time and money on traditional expensive access systems.

The Industrial Roofing Centre can give you advice on all the suitable products that can help keep you safe at work. Give them a call on your next project and see how they can help you.

Tel: 0870 264 7766
Email: ircsalesteam@sigroofing.co.uk