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Falls through roof lights

Fragile roof-light sheets can often be found in roofs which are otherwise non-fragile. If you do not identify these sheets and do not take appropriate precautions, the consequences can be tragic.

Fall through roof light while helping a neighbour

Problem

A farmer died after falling 4m through a roof light while carrying out repairs on the barn roof of a neighbouring farm. To reach the area of the tin sheet roof that needed repairing he had to pass a number of roof lights that had not been covered or fenced off. The neighbouring farmer had been passing up materials to him but had gone to make a drink at the time of the accident. The farmer doing the repairs was found semi-conscious beneath a broken roof light and was taken to hospital. He died nine days later from head injuries.

Solutions

  • Check carefully for any roof lights in non-fragile roofs as they can be difficult to spot. They may have been painted over. In bright sunlight they can blend in with the surrounding sheets.
  • Take precautions to prevent falls wherever the job involves passing by or working near fragile roof lights. For example:
    • fit suitable, secure covers over the roof lights; or
    • provide suitable guard rails and toe boards or similar around the roof lights; or
    • provide a safety net, scaffold or similar (eg a suitable stack of bales) immediately beneath the roof surface.
  • Consider taking some permanent protective measures; for example, fit strong steel mesh above or below the roof lights.
    Make sure danger areas are clearly indicated.

Dismantling an agricultural building

Problem

Two employees were dismantling a farm building. As one of the workers walked across the roof he fell through a skylight to the concrete floor below, suffering multiple fractures and head injuries.

It appears that the employees had been left to themselves to organise and plan the demolition of the building. No method statement or other plan had been devised to make sure the work could be carried out safely. In the absence of a method statement or plan, the workers decided on the method of demolition between themselves and, in doing so, they gave no thought to how to prevent falls and no precautions were taken. The route used to access the ridge meant that workers had to walk close to unprotected fragile skylights and no safety netting or other fall prevention methods were used.

Solutions

  • All work on roofs is high risk, so make sure all workers are trained in safe working practices.
  • Carry out a risk assessment for all roofing jobs.
  • Except in the most straightforward circumstances, prepare a written method statement. This should help to ensure that all involved understand exactly what they have to do.
  • Make sure that workers are adequately supervised.
  • Always provide protection against falls whenever anyone works on or near fragile roofing materials. Suitable protection will normally include a combination of coverings, guard rails, safety nets and safety harnesses.
  • Never allow workers to walk across the roof sheets or purlins.

Repairing a barn roof with unguarded roof lights

Problem

A 19-year-old worker was injured when he fell approximately 4.5m through a fragile roof light in a cement fibre roof. He suffered a compound fracture of his left wrist and bruising to his left hip. He was assisting a farm worker to repair the roof. He gained access to the roof via a ladder that was not secured. There were no crawling boards or similar available for use. The roof light was not guarded or covered to prevent employees falling onto it, and a safety net was not in use. The roof – which had a small pitch – had no edge protection. The whole of the roof should have been assumed to be fragile, but no risk assessment had been carried out; no safe system of work had been established; and the necessary equipment to carry out the work safely had not been provided.

Solutions

  • Provide protection against falls whenever anyone works on or near fragile materials. Suitable protection will normally include a combination of coverings, guard rails, safety nets and safety harnesses.
  • Never allow workers to walk the line of purlins.
  • Always treat roofs as ‘fragile’ unless it can be confirmed that they are capable of carrying your weight.
  • Any work on a roof is high risk. Consider sometimes carrying out repairs by working from a safe place below, instead of going onto the roof.
    Carry out a risk assessment for all work on fragile roofs.
  • Except in the most straightforward circumstances, prepare a written method statement. This should help to ensure that all involved understand exactly what they have to do.

Fall through roof light while pressure-washing roof

Problem

An employee fell through a skylight when he was pressure-washing a pig building inside and out (including the roof) during an intensive disease-control programme. He was working under the direct supervision of the farm manager, who was pressure-washing on the roof alongside him.

They gained access to the roof simply by climbing up the outside of the structure. Both men walked across the corrugated asbestos cement sheets, using pressure lances to hose the roof surfaces. Other employees had been engaged in the same activity when they had the time available. No consideration was given to the use of crawling boards, working platforms or cherry pickers. The young employee fell to the concrete floor, fracturing his right leg and wrist.

Solutions

  • Provide protection against falls whenever anyone works on or near fragile materials. Suitable protection will normally include a combination of coverings, guard rails, safety nets and safety harnesses.
  • Never allow workers to walk across the roof sheets.
2016-01-05