Fragile roofs: what you need to know

Posted 11 Jul 2019

Fragile roof dangers

Falls through fragile roofs account for 22 percent of all fatal falls from height, with nine people falling to their deaths through unsafe surfaces each year. Lives are changed, and often ended, when these risks aren’t properly managed.

The law states that all contractors and employers are responsible for making workers aware of the dangers posed by working on or near fragile surfaces, and for managing the risk with the correct procedures and solutions.

What is a fragile roof?

A roof is fragile if it will not safely take the weight of a person and any materials they might be carrying. The most common types of fragile roofs are:

  • Fibre cement sheets, often non-reinforced 

  • Rooflights. These are usually designed to be ‘man safe’, but will degrade over the years, with the speed of degradation depending on materials and quality of installation. Unless you are absolutely sure a rooflight is safe, with evidence such as original installation documents stating the period of non-fragility, you should assume it is fragile.

  • Liner panels on built-up sheeted roofs

  • Metal sheets, often corroded

  • Glass, including 

  • Chipboard, or rotten

  • Wool slabs, slates and tiles

What are your responsibilities?

According to health and safety guidelines, those at risk should be fully informed of the dangers, told what the necessary safety precautions are, and be trained in the required areas.

If you are the owner of the roof in question, or the current occupier of a business premises, you are required to work closely with the contractors, and communicate fully and openly about any risks you know of. If you fail to communicate or it is found you did not attempt to meet your responsibilities, you could be found at fault for any fall, along with any contracted company.

Everyone involved in work at height, right from designers to clients and contractors, should treat falls through fragile roofs as a priority hazard, and do what they can to minimise the risk and their effects.

What can I do?

In the first instance, as with any work at height, your best bet to keep people safe near fragile surfaces is by removing the need for roof access entirely. Where possible, carry out work from below the surface with a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP).

If this is not possible, then your next step should be implementing the correct control measures to minimise the risk of a fall when work is being carried out. Alongside performing full risk assessments and supplying method statements, applicable safety solutions should be implemented.

Though many roofs feature collective edge protection systems such as guardrail, or personal systems like lifelines, these often are not suitable for fall risks within the perimeter of the roof. Instead, you should look to install a solution which is designed for the particular task to ensure full protection. Steadfast supplies a range of fragile roof solutions which make work on unstable surfaces safe and secure.

This, alongside proper communication and cooperation with everyone involved in the process, will do much to keep work on fragile roofs safe for all involved, and ensure everyone is able to go home at the end of the day.

For more information about working safely on fragile roofs using our specialised safe access solutions, click here, or call us on 01473 834 144.

by Carolyn Campbell

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