5 Regulations For Working at Height On Fragile Roofs

Introduction

Working at height on roofs with fragile elements is one of the most hazardous tasks in the construction industry. The risks associated with this work are significant, and the consequences of accidents can be severe, including serious injuries and even fatalities. In the UK, falls from height remain the leading cause of workplace fatalities, with many of these incidents occurring on construction sites. Therefore, employers and employees must understand and comply with the regulations and best practices for working safely at height, particularly when dealing with fragile roofs.

This comprehensive guide will delve into regulations for working at height and the importance of safety. By understanding and adhering to these regulations, construction companies can protect their workers, minimise the risk of accidents, and ensure compliance with legal requirements. Throughout this article, we will explore real-life incidents, discuss the legal and financial ramifications of non-compliance, and provide practical guidance on implementing effective safety measures to prevent falls from height on fragile roofs.

The Importance of Compliance with Working at Height Regulations

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 is the primary legislation governing safety when working at height in the UK. These regulations were introduced to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities resulting from falls from height in the workplace. The regulations apply to all industries, but they are particularly relevant to the construction sector, where working at height is a common occurrence.

The core principle of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 is that work at height should be avoided whenever possible. If working at height cannot be avoided, employers must ensure that the work is properly planned, supervised, and carried out using the appropriate safety equipment. This includes conducting a thorough risk assessment, selecting the right equipment for the job, and ensuring that workers are adequately trained and competent to carry out the work safely.

Compliance with the Work at Height Regulations 2005 is not only a legal obligation but also a moral imperative. By prioritising safety and adhering to these regulations, construction companies can:

  • Protect the health and well-being of their employees
  • Reduce the risk of accidents and injuries
  • Minimise the financial and repetitional damage associated with safety incidents
  • Demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility
  • Avoid legal penalties and prosecution for non-compliance

Failing to comply with the Working at Height Regulations can result in severe consequences, including fines, imprisonment, and the revocation of licenses. Moreover, the human cost of accidents and fatalities is immeasurable, with far-reaching impacts on workers, their families, and their colleagues. Therefore, it is essential for everyone involved in working at height on fragile roofs to understand and adhere to the regulations and best practices for ensuring safety.

Common Risks and Real-Life Incidents

Working on roofs where there are elements of fragility such as roof lights and skylights, poses a multitude of risks, primarily due to the potential for falls from height. Fragile roof materials, such as asbestos cement sheets, corroded metal sheets, or rotten timber, can easily break or give way under the weight of a person, leading to a fall. Other risks include falling through roof lights, skylights, or gaps in the roof, as well as tripping or slipping on the roof surface.

Kee Cover protection for fragile roof lights and skylights on industrial roofs
Kee Cover – Fragile Roof Light / Skylight protection

Real-life incidents serve as stark reminders of the dangers associated with working around fragile roofs. In one case, a construction company in North Wales was fined £450,000 after a worker fell through a fragile roof and suffered life-changing injuries. The investigation revealed that the company had failed to properly plan and supervise the work, and had not provided adequate safety equipment or training to its employees.

In another incident, a roofing contractor in Yorkshire was sentenced to four years in prison after a worker fell to his death through a fragile roof. The investigation found that the contractor had not carried out a proper risk assessment, had not provided appropriate safety equipment, and had allowed work to continue despite knowing the risks.

These incidents highlight the severe consequences of non-compliance with safety regulations. In addition to the human cost, companies found to be in breach of the Work at Height Regulations can face substantial fines, legal costs, and repetitional damage. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 also allows for the prosecution of companies and individuals where a gross breach of a duty of care has resulted in a fatality.

To prevent such tragedies and ensure the safety of workers, it is crucial for construction companies to identify the risks associated with working on fragile roofs and implement appropriate control measures. This includes conducting thorough risk assessments, providing suitable equipment and training, and ensuring that work is properly planned and supervised at all times.

5 Key Regulations for Working at Height on Fragile Roofs

When working on fragile roofs, it is essential to adhere to the relevant health and safety regulations to minimise the risk of accidents and injuries. Here are the five key regulations to consider:

  1. Work at Height Regulations 2005: These regulations are the primary legislation governing work at height in the UK. They require employers to assess the risks, avoid work at height where possible, and use appropriate safety equipment and measures where work at height cannot be avoided. When working on fragile roofs, employers must ensure that the work is properly planned, supervised, and carried out by competent people, using suitable work equipment and fall protection systems.
  2. Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015: These regulations place duties on clients, designers, and contractors to manage health and safety throughout construction projects, including work on fragile roofs. They require the appointment of a principal designer and principal contractor to coordinate safety management, the preparation of a construction phase plan, and the provision of suitable welfare facilities on site.
  3. Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992: These regulations require employers to provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees working at height on fragile roofs. This may include safety harnesses, lanyards, anchor points, and other fall arrest systems. Employers must ensure that the PPE is properly maintained, stored, and used by competent individuals.
  4. Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER): These regulations cover the selection, maintenance, and use of work equipment, including equipment used for accessing and working on fragile roofs, such as ladders, scaffolding, and mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs). Employers must ensure that the equipment is suitable for the task, properly maintained, and used by competent individuals in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and relevant safety standards.
  5. Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974: This act sets out the general duties of employers and employees to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all persons at work. When working on fragile roofs, employers must provide a safe working environment, safe systems of work, and adequate training and supervision. Employees have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions, and to cooperate with their employer in complying with health and safety requirements.

In addition to these regulations, there are several standards and guidance documents that provide specific advice on working safely on fragile roofs, such as BS EN 516:2006 (Prefabricated accessories for roofing – Installations for roof access – Walkways, treads and steps) and ACR(M)001:2014 (Test For Non-Fragility of Large Element Roofing Assemblies).

By adhering to these regulations and standards, and following the guidance provided, construction companies can ensure that they are taking all necessary steps to protect their workers from the risks of working at height on fragile roofs.

Implementing Safety Measures and Controls

To ensure the safety of workers on fragile roofs, it is essential to implement a hierarchy of control measures. This hierarchy prioritises the most effective measures first, with personal protective equipment (PPE) being the last line of defence. The hierarchy of controls for working on roofs includes:

  1. Elimination: The first step is to avoid working on roofs altogether, if possible. This may involve exploring alternative methods of carrying out the work, such as using a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) or accessing the roof from underneath.
  2. Substitution: If work on a fragile roof cannot be avoided, consider substituting the fragile material with a more durable one, or using a safer method of access, such as a temporary platform or scaffolding.
  3. Engineering controls: These involve implementing physical measures to prevent falls, such as:
    • Installing guardrails or barriers around the perimeter of the roof
    • Using crawling boards or roof ladders to spread the load on fragile surfaces
    • Covering fragile roof lights or skylights with a suitable material
    • Installing safety nets or soft landing systems to mitigate the consequences of a fall
  4. Administrative controls: These include measures such as:
    • Conducting a thorough risk assessment and developing a safe system of work
    • Providing adequate training and supervision for workers
    • Implementing a permit-to-work system to control access to the roof
    • Establishing emergency procedures and rescue plans in case of a fall
  5. Personal protective equipment (PPE): This is the last line of defence and should be used in conjunction with other control measures. PPE for working on fragile roofs may include:
    • A full-body harness and lanyard connected to a suitable anchor point
    • Protective footwear with good grip and ankle support
    • Hard hats and eye protection to guard against falling objects
    • High-visibility clothing to ensure workers are easily seen

It is crucial that all safety equipment is properly selected, inspected, and maintained, and that workers are trained in its correct use. Regular inspections and maintenance should be carried out to ensure that equipment remains in good condition and is fit for purpose.

In addition to the hierarchy of control measures, there are specific products available that can help ensure safety when working on fragile roofs. One such example is the Valley Walk fragile roof cage protection system from APS.

Valley Walk Fragile Roof Cage Protection

The Valley Walk is a mobile cage system designed for short-term, light maintenance work on fragile roofs. It provides safe access for one or two people along valley gutters for inspection, cleaning, and resealing maintenance work. The lightweight system is ideal for fragile asbestos rooftops and roof light access and maintenance.

Valley Walk Regulations For Working at Height APS
Valley-Frame mobile walking frame for fragile roofs is quick and easy to assemble

Key features of the Valley Walk include:

  • Quick assembly, allowing workers to be ready within 30 minutes
  • Approved compliance with industry standards, including EN 12811
  • Safe access on fragile roofs for easy inspection, cleaning, and maintenance
  • Cushioned outriggers for comfort, fitted with safety mesh and adjustable to suit the roof’s pitch
  • Suitable for both symmetrical and asymmetrical designs, such as northern lights (steeped pitched glazing)

Case Studies: Lessons Learned

Analysing real-life incidents involving work on fragile roofs can provide valuable lessons for construction companies looking to improve their safety practices. 

Case Study: Yorkshire Roofing Contractor Sentenced to Four Years in Prison

In this tragic case, a worker lost his life after falling through a fragile roof. The investigation uncovered a series of failures by the roofing contractor:

  • No proper risk assessment was carried out
  • Appropriate safety equipment was not provided
  • Work was allowed to continue despite the known risks

The key lessons learned from this case are:

  1. Risk assessments are a legal requirement: Failing to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment is a breach of the Work at Height Regulations and can result in severe legal consequences. Risk assessments must be carried out by a competent person and reviewed regularly to ensure they remain valid.
  2. Safety equipment is a must: Providing appropriate safety equipment is not optional; it is a legal requirement. Employers must ensure that workers have access to the right equipment for the job and that it is properly maintained and inspected.
  3. Ignoring known risks is unacceptable: If a risk is identified during the course of work, it must be addressed immediately. Allowing work to continue in the face of known dangers is a gross breach of the duty of care and can result in criminal prosecution.

By learning from these incidents and applying the lessons learned to their own safety practices, construction companies can help prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future. It is essential to prioritise safety at every stage of a project, from planning and risk assessment through to execution and completion. Only by fostering a strong safety culture and adhering to best practices can we ensure that every worker goes home safe at the end of the day.

In addition to learning from past incidents, construction companies can also proactively enhance safety by using specialised equipment designed for working on fragile roofs. The Kee Walk temporary fragile roof walkway from APS is one such solution.

Kee Walk Temporary Fragile Roof Walkway

Kee Walk is a temporary walkway that allows safe access from the eaves to the ridge of a fragile or industrial roof. It provides a secure working platform around fragile materials, such as rooflights, and enables fast and easy access to the roof while ensuring a safe working position for users.

Kee Walk APS Regulations For Working at Height
Board-Walk temporary fragile roof walkway

Key benefits of the Kee Walk system include:

  • Modular construction that can be configured to fit individual roof sizes and requirements
  • Lightweight and easy to transport and assemble
  • 2m, 3m, and 4m sections that link together to run vertically or horizontally across the roof
  • Integral full-length work positioning line for added safety
  • Optional accessories, including single or double-sided handrails, roof hook, and valley stop end
  • Designed and tested to meet industry standards, including EN 12811-1 and EN 795:2012
  • Quick assembly and dismantling by a single person

By incorporating innovative solutions like the Valley Walk and Kee Walk into their safety procedures, construction companies can significantly enhance the protection of their workers when accessing and working on fragile roofs.

Conclusion 

Working at height on fragile roofs is a high-risk activity that requires meticulous planning, appropriate equipment, and a commitment to safety from everyone involved. The consequences of failing to comply with the relevant regulations and best practices can be devastating, both in terms of human suffering and legal and financial repercussions.

Throughout this article, we have explored the key regulations governing work on fragile roofs in the UK, including the Work at Height Regulations 2005, the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. We have also examined the hierarchy of control measures that should be implemented to mitigate the risks, from elimination and substitution through to engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment.

Real-life case studies have highlighted the tragic consequences of non-compliance and the lessons that can be learned from these incidents. The importance of proper planning, risk assessment, training, and supervision cannot be overstated, nor can the need for suitable safety equipment and a culture that prioritises safety above all else.

It is the responsibility of every construction company and individual involved in working at height on fragile roofs to ensure that these regulations and best practices are followed to the letter. This requires ongoing commitment, regular training and refresher courses, and a willingness to challenge unsafe practices and report potential hazards.

If you are involved in working at height on fragile roofs, we urge you to take the time to familiarise yourself with the regulations and guidance referenced in this article. Conduct thorough risk assessments, develop safe systems of work, and ensure that all workers are properly trained and equipped. Remember, safety is not a box-ticking exercise – it is a fundamental human right and a moral imperative.

By working together to prioritise safety and compliance, we can prevent needless injuries and fatalities and ensure that every worker returns home safely at the end of each day. Let us honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in falls from height by redoubling our efforts to create a safer, healthier construction industry for all.

If you you need support or advice regarding an upcoming project, or simply want to know more about the Working at Height Regulations and how to adhere to them, please contact us today, and one of our friendly team will be happy to help.