In agriculture, roughly half the deaths and serious injuries caused by falls involve work on fragile roofs. These are roofs sheeted with materials that will not safely support a person's weight and can shatter without warning, for example fibre cement roof sheets (commonly referred to as 'asbestos cement'), corroded metal sheets, and many roof-light sheets.
A farmer died after falling through a fragile roof. He went onto the roof to clean moss from old asbestos cement sheets and inspect them before replacing them with new metal sheets. The roof gave way under his weight and he fell approximately 3m onto a concrete floor, suffering serious head injuries. He died five days later.
A farm worker was killed when he fell 4m through the roof of a farm building. He was one of two experienced employees who were finishing some roofwork repairs started the day before. He was using a single scaffold board to walk on the roof and had been standing on this while he cut away some damaged fibre cement roof sheets with a disc cutter. As he stood up on the board after cutting the sheets, he lost his balance and fell backwards through the roof to the concrete floor below.
The farmer and two of his employees were repairing a leaking roof on a cow shed. The men went up a ladder (not tied and with no handrails at the top) and along the roof. The workmen were told to walk on the sheet joints because there were trusses below. In the course of attaching new sheets, first the farmer fell, then one of the employees. No handrails, edge protection, crawling boards or other means of preventing a fall had been provided.
The investigation of the accident indicated that a timber purlin – having suffered decay as a result of water leaking and soaking through the roof – had probably fractured beneath some of the roof sheets.
Take steps to provide a means of preventing or minimising falls, eg:
A farm worker fractured a lumbar vertebra and badly bruised his ribs after falling through a fragile roof while cleaning the gutters. He had cleared an edge gutter by riding in a grain bucket while the farmer drove the tractor along next to the gutter. He then moved on to clean a valley gutter. The asbestos cement sheeting on the adjacent roof was fragile. The farmer had examined the work area from a ladder and told the worker to 'just walk on the bolts and you won't go through'. The farmer then left the worker on his own to clear the gutter and carry the waste to the grain bucket, which was left raised at the end of the valley. At some point, he slipped and fell through the roof to the concrete floor below.
A farm worker fell over 3m through the fragile roof of a farm building during the cleaning of valley gutters. He was one of a team of two who had been lifted onto the roof by a telescopic handler and then began to walk along the valley gutters. The valley gutter was too narrow and the men could not get their feet beside each other in the gutter. They were moving along with one foot in the gutter and the other on the nail line of the fragile roof sheets. As they were cleaning and moving along the gutter, one of the roof sheets gave way and he fell to the concrete floor below. He suffered head injuries and cuts to his feet.