4.1.1 Roof work and falling hazards
Roof work as High Risk Construction (HRC) work

Falls from height are the major cause of death and injury when working on roofs. Falls from even low heights can leave workers with permanent and debilitating injuries such as fractures, spinal cord injuries, concussion and brain damage. The risk of serious injury or death from a fall increases significantly as working heights increase.

As an employer the first step to making your workplace as safe as possible for contractors and staff is to have awareness of the conditions that can see the risks of falls increased. These include:

  • The presence of unprotected edges;
  • The presence of fragile surfaces, skylights, holes or vents;
  • Weather conditions such as wind and rain;
  • Trip hazards (for example roof components and protrusions);
  • Overbalancing or losing grip on steep pitched or sloping roofs.

Construction work on roofs is considered high risk construction work when it involves, for example:

  • Risk of a person falling more than two metres;
  • Demolition of an element of a structure that is load-bearing or otherwise related to the physical integrity of the structure, like bracing on a roof;
  • Involves, or is likely to involve, the disturbance of asbestos;
  • Is carried out on or near energised electrical installations or services.

As always, a safe work method statement (SWMS) must be prepared for high risk construction work. In it, you should outline the measures you are taking to control identified risks. You should consult with workers involved in the work when completing and reviewing the SWMS.

Not all work on roofs is considered High Risk Construction work. It is important to remember that even minor works, like the cleaning of roof gutters or replacing of individual roof tiles, can have the same hazards involved, especially the risk of falls.

What are your responsibilities?

As an employer, you are responsible for providing and maintaining, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of your employees and contractors. Before starting work on a roof, identify the hazards and assess the risks involved so you can plan how to manage them.

Many incidents can be avoided if suitable equipment is used and if those doing the work are consulted about the hazards and risks and given adequate information, instruction, training and supervision.

The risk of falls must be either eliminated or reduced using the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable, in accordance with the hierarchy of controls. If a single control measure is not enough, a combination of control measures can be used.

Planning for, and using, suitable equipment and methods to access roofs will reduce the risk of falls. Methods for providing roof access include:

  • Scaffold access towers;
  • Stair towers;
  • Industrial grade secured ladders;
  • Roof access hatches.

If there is no permanent access to roof areas, provide properly constructed temporary access points. These should be clearly signposted on roof edge protection. Ensure that stepping onto the roof can be done safely and that the landing place is firm, stable and free of obstructions.

All roofs should be treated as fragile until a competent person has confirmed they are not.

No sheeted roof, no matter what the material, should be relied on to bear the weight of a person. This includes the roof ridge and purlins.

Roofs are likely to be fragile if they are constructed of the following materials:

  • Asbestos roofing sheets;
  • Polycarbonate or plastic commonly used in skylights;
  • Roof lights, particularly those in the roof plane that can be difficult to see in certain light conditions or when hidden by paint;
  • Fibre cement sheets;
  • Liner panels on built-up sheeted roofs;
  • Metal sheets and fasteners where corroded;
  • Glass, including wired glass;
  • Chipboard or similar material where rotted;
  • Wood slabs, slates and tiles.
Risk controls

Control measures to prevent injury from work on roofs, especially fragile roofs, include using :

  • An elevating work platform so workers can avoid standing on the roof itself;
  • Barriers such as guard rails or covers that are secured and labelled with a warning;
  • Guard rails fitted to all work and access staging or platforms;
  • Walkways or crawl boards of a suitable size and strength;
  • Staging on the roof surface to spread the loads;
  • Safety mesh secured under fragile roofing or skylights. If safety mesh is used, ensure it:
    • Conforms to AS/NZS 4389:2015 Roof safety mesh
    • Is installed by a competent person in a safe manner and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
    • Has its integrity inspected by a competent person, prior to roof maintenance or removal
    • Is covered by the roof cladding as soon 
      as reasonably practicable after it has 
      been installed
  • A harness system with adequate anchorage points, along with appropriate training and supervision. As wearing harnesses creates extra trip hazards, workers should be made to take extra care when wearing them. The training should include how to rescue someone who falls while using a fall arrest system.
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