The hidden danger of industrial roofs

There is a hidden danger lurking on the roofs of industrial buildings in the UK.

Found mainly on warehouses and factories, often built when design regulations were less strict, fragile roofs can pose a serious risk to the lives of workers who may need to access them.

Maintaining plant and equipment, repairing and resealing the roof surface, or even cleaning roof gutters can require roof access, and common roof safety solutions such as guardrail and lifelines can do little to protect workers if the roof surface is fragile.

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, often painted
  • Non-reinforced fibre cement sheets
  • Asbestos cement sheets
  • Corroded metal sheets
  • Glass, including wired ‘safety’ glass
  • Slates and tiles in poor condition

It is a little known fact that more people fall through the roof than over the roof, and workers who are unprepared for work on fragile roofs, or even completely unaware that the roof is fragile, are often doomed to contribute to the forty workers that fall to their deaths at work each year.

Are rooflights fragile

What can you do?

As the owner or occupier of a building, or if you have hired a company to perform work on your roof, you have a duty of care towards workers who will carry out that work.

There are a few simple tips that you can follow when work is being carried out on your roof, or if you manage a team who may have to perform work at height. By following these guidelines, you can often ensure both the safety of your workers as well as prove that you did all you could should something go wrong.

  • Rule number one, according to the work at height hierarchy: if you can avoid working at height, do so. You don’t necessarily have to go out onto a roof for work like gutter cleaning, inspecting or surveying. These can often be done from ground level, or using a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP), or a tower scaffold.
  • If you absolutely must access the roof to do the work, perhaps due to the positioning of plant and equipment, never assume the roof is safe to walk on unless you are certain it is not fragile, having taken all reasonable precautions.
  • Do not step onto the roof, or allow anyone under your care to do so, without carrying out a thorough risk assessment and selecting the appropriate control measures to either prevent falls or reduce the consequences should a fall occur.
  • Ask contracted companies to describe verbally or in a method statement how they will do the work.
  • Be prepared to stop the work immediately if the contractors don’t keep to their method statement or the work looks unsafe. If you’re unsure, stop it as soon as you are able.

By following these steps, you should be able to minimise much of the risk associated with working on fragile roofs.

In the next part of this blog series, we will take a look at the best safe access solutions for each fragile roof scenario. To view our full range of fragile roof products, click here, or for more information call us on 0161 777 4230.