Working on roofs

Mark Owen – Health & Safety Expert

December 05 2016

Sometimes roof work is unavoidable - however, it's one of the most dangerous tasks an employee can carry out. This is why you must do whatever you can to ensure the safety of your employees - failure to do so can lead to an injury or even worse, death.

If you don't secure your employee's safety whilst working on a roof, you could find yourself liable to a negligence case being made against you - with heavy fines to pay or a custodial sentence.

In this guide, we'll discuss the risks from roof work, your responsibilities and how you can keep your employees safe.

What are the risks of working on roofs?

Roof work is one of the most high-risk jobs in the UK, where many deaths occur. As an employer, it's crucial you understand the risks involved, and not taking your employees safely seriously can be a matter of life and death.

Below are common risks that go hand in hand with working on roofs.

Falling from height or through gaps

Roofs aren't designed to be worked or walked on, and their shape alone means anyone working on a roof can be susceptible to a heavy fall.

Falls occur on both commercial and domestic roofing, and additional protection should be put in place for anyone you have working on a roof.

Fragile roof surfaces

Falls through fragile roofs account for a quarter of all deaths in the construction industry, as per the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Whether you employ specialist roofers or just people to clean your roofs - you must keep them safe.

The following are likely to be dangerous on fragile surfaces:

  • Old and fragile roof lights (these are a particular hazard as they're sometimes difficult to see in some light conditions).
  • Old liner panels.
  • Corroded metal sheets.
  • Rotted chipboard.
  • Slates and tiles.

Work on fragile roof surfaces requires a combination of safety equipment, so before allowing employees to work make sure they have the correct equipment in place.

It's important you understand that all roofs should be classed as fragile until a competent person confirms the other way, and don't assume a sheeted roof can take a person's weight.

Being struck by falling debris

Another significant risk in roof work is being injured by falling materials. A sudden gust of wind could cause excess materials, loose roof tiles or rubbish caught in the guttering to fall and hit an employee.

Falling materials could cause serious injury, or even death so it's vital you clear the area where the work is going to take place.

Roof edges and openings falls

Falls from roof edges occur in commercial construction sites, domestic projects and refurbishment jobs. There are two different types:

  • Falls from flat roofs are caused by a lack of edge protection.
  • Falls from sloping roofs are caused by the steepness or construction of a sloping roof.

In order to protect your employees from falls from flat or sloping roofs, ensure you erect scaffolding to prevent falls.

Weather conditions

To minimize the chance of a serious incident taking place, avoid working in extreme weather. Such as:

  • Extreme heat.
  • Extreme cold.
  • Extreme wind.
  • When light conditions are fading.

As an employer, it's crucial you understand the responsibilities you have to your employees’ safety when performing roof work.

Roofs being worked on.

What are your legal responsibilities for roof safety?

There is a range of legislation in the UK which protect employees whilst working on roofs. It's important you understand your responsibilities as an employer.

Failure to keep your employees safe can lead to a negligence claim being made against you.

The following regulations are in place to ensure roof safety:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
  • The Work at Height Regulations 2005.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 2007.
  • The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1998.
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 should always be your first port of call when it comes to roof work.

Do your employees need to be qualified to work on a roof?

Your employees don't require any qualifications to work on a roof, however, they may require a Construction Skills Certification Scheme card to work on a construction site.

You should always provide training before commencing work on a roof.

Are employees allowed to work by themselves on a roof?

Yes, employees can work alone on a roof. But there are certain things you should do to monitor them to check they're safe. Such as:

  • Regular visits by a supervisor.
  • Schedule contact with the lone worker, such as hourly phone calls.
  • Provide any lone workers with devices which can trigger alerts if they get in trouble.

What safety measures should you take for roof work?

There are numerous health & safety measures that you must enforce whenever you're needing employees to carry out roof work. These necessary control measures are a legal requirement to ensure roof safety.

Carefully plan safe access to a roof

Before undertaking work safely on a roof, you must plan safe access to the area you're going to work on. Your safe access should be planned thoroughly, with all factors being taken into consideration, such as weather conditions.

Typical methods to access roofs safely are:

  • Stair towers.
  • General access scaffolds.
  • Fixed or mobile scaffold towers.
  • Mobile access equipment.
  • A roof ladder or roof access hatches.

Conduct a roof work risk assessment

As stated in the Work at Height Regulations 2005, employers must ensure any work taking place at height is properly planned, supervised and carried out in a manner which is safe. Carrying out an assessment is the perfect way to do this.

Each stage of the process requires a risk assessment to take place:

  1. Accessing the roof safely.
  2. Assessing where you're working on fragile roofs or with fragile materials.
  3. Assess whether you required edge protection, and if so which kind.
  4. Assess whether other protective equipment is required, such as guard rails or safety nets.
  5. Assesses whether work platforms are required if the roof doesn't provide them.

For example, any work near a fragile roof requires a guard rail, fall restraint and safety nets slung beneath and close to the roof. By noting this on your risk assessment - you can do your best to ensure the safety of your employees.

You should always create a safe system of work for any of your employees who will be carrying out roof work - this follows the findings from the risk assessment.

Create a safe system of work

When creating a safe system to work, use your findings from the risk assessment where possible. The system should be documented and explains how you'll keep employees safe when completing any roof work.

Your safe system should include:

  • How you'll access the roof - either using a scaffold tower or properly secured ladders.
  • What form of edge protection you'll use - either guard rails, toe boards or an immediate secure double guardrail.
  • If a work platform beneath is required.
  • What your rescue procedures are in case of an emergency.

Make sure the building materials and safety equipment are correct

Before undertaking any roof work, it's vital you're using the correct tools and materials. If you use material up a roof and it isn't up to the job - you could be putting your employees' roof safety at risk.

Ensure any edge protection you're using on your roof edges aren't broken and will provide the best protection.

Make sure material is thrown away

Leaving excess materials lying around the working area is highly dangerous, especially in tough weather. This can cause serious injury to your employees and is a serious health and safety risk.

Fragile materials can make safe surfaces turn into fragile surfaces.

Provide your employees with fall arrest systems

These systems are the most efficient and helpful way to protect against injury if a fall occurs from a roof edge.

Also known as fall mitigation; these systems can include safety nets, personal fall arrest harnesses, and soft landing systems. You must have these systems in place before any work is started.

What personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed for working on roofs?

You must provide PPE to any employees working on roofs, but the associated hazards they'll face decides what equipment they'll need.

The following PPE should be provided:

  • Eye protection.
  • Trousers (shorts aren't recommended due to risk of cuts and splinters).
  • Protective footwear/steel toe boots.
  • Safety helmets.
  • Knee pads.

Can you be prosecuted for unsafe roof work?

Failure to ensure your employees safety could lead to a negligence claim being made against you. The HSE can hand you a heavy fine or for the most serious cases, a potential custodial sentence.

It's crucial you take the health & safety of your employees seriously when requiring roof work.

Get expert advice on working on roofs with Peninsula

As an employer, you have a duty of care to keep your employees safe at all times, and this includes when they're working on roofs.

You must thoroughly assess the roof before sending people up there to work, and provide edge protection to sloped or flat roofs. Failure to get it wrong could lead to an employee suffering serious injury, and a negligence claim being made against you.

If you require any advice on roof work - contact us. We can advise on the legal requirements and ensure your staff are working safely.

Peninsula offers 24/7 Health & Safety advice which is available 365 days a year. Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 029 4376 and book a free consultation with one of our health & safety consultants.

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