Most of us would agree that in the last decade great strides forward in working safely at height have been made across most areas and trades involved in building and maintaining all manner of roofs.
Risks from falls are now better identified, controlled and avoided. Building projects have better edge protection; safety netting is now commonplace, as is the use of cherry pickers to access high-level work safely by well-trained staff. Non-fragile roofing and skylights are used. The number of falls has steadily reduced and everyone involved should be proud of their role in this achievement.
That said, there is a safety ‘elephant’ in the room – falls through or from fragile roofs or skylights.
This affects, not only the traditional construction or new build sectors, it remains a stubborn and perennial problem across the UK’s vast stock of industrial and commercial premises. This stock of buildings is often roofed using single skins of fibre cement sheeting and plastic skylights. Serious incidents involving roofing contractors and maintenance staff from all sizes of businesses are still happening. Too many people are still accessing fragile roofs without taking adequate safety precautions and then falling through or from them. These incidents often result in serious life changing injury or worse, fatalities.
Both HSE and construction safety stakeholder bodies overseeing roofing and other construction trades have voiced strong concerns about the on-going toll fragile roof falls is having. They are asking the roofing industry, general construction and HSE to work together to reduce this toll by making some further steps forward.
Confusion about what to do when working on fragile roofs remains a problem, particularly with short duration maintenance or repair works often, but not always, undertaken by smaller contractors or maintenance firms. The risks they pose are partly rooted in poor safety awareness and an often fatal misunderstanding about the risk of working on such roofs. The classic ‘it’s only a small, quick 10-minute job so we don’t need to take any precautions’ or the ‘walk the bolts or purlin line and you’ll be fine’ or perhaps just using a scaffold plank or two. These ideas were unsafe 10 or 20 years ago and are still unsafe now.
But is there room for some optimism?
Given the huge number of fragile roofs worked upon on industrial estates, factories and farms across the UK, perhaps we might expect more incidents to be happening?
Are you a competent contractor, a sensible business who appreciates the risks faced when at work on fragile roofs? If you are and can show how you are getting this right and achieving an adequate, suitable level of safety for your staff before they walk across, work beside or need to repair or maintain fragile roofs we need to know the ‘secret’ to your safety success?
As the ‘elf and safety’ people cannot solve this stubborn problem alone.
The HSE needs to know your safety solutions for working on fragile roofs or fragile roof lights. What works in your business?
If you believe you know how to keep yourself and your staff safe on fragile roofs then the HSE wants to hear about your safe working ‘secrets’. We need to share any good, sensible ideas as widely as possible.
For our part, we’ll consider any ideas put forward. We will look pragmatically at what you suggest and if your idea helps reduce the risks, then we’ll consider it.
It doesn’t have to be perfect to be of any real-world value but it might just save a life.
It’s time that we all worked together to tell this particular ‘elephant’ to pack its trunk and wave goodbye once and for all.
NFRC Members are asked to send in your ideas for best working practices, safe working methods/ RAMS and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. NFRC will then forward them onto HSE – anomalously, if requested.