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Workplace Safety Roofing Guidelines

Working safely on roofs is critical, not only to prevent accidents but also to ensure that each task is carried out efficiently and responsibly. This comprehensive guide is tailored for contractors and workers involved in roof works, offering a thorough understanding of the protocols, equipment, and planning necessary to ensure safety at all times.

Introduction to Roof Work Safety Working on roofs involves inherent risks that can lead to serious accidents or even fatalities. Between 2007 and 2011, falls from roofs resulted in 20 deaths, highlighting the critical need for stringent safety measures. This guide is designed to equip those involved in roofing tasks—be it new constructions, repairs, or maintenance—with the necessary knowledge to manage and mitigate these risks.

Planning for Safety: The Cornerstone of Roof Work Effective planning is essential in minimizing risks associated with roof work. A Fall Prevention Plan (FPP) is mandated by the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Act and entails a detailed approach to identifying hazards, assessing risks, and implementing control measures. Each plan is specific to the site and includes elements such as identifying responsibilities, hazard identification, risk assessment, and emergency response procedures.

Identifying Hazards: A Proactive Approach A significant portion of roof work safety revolves around the early identification of potential hazards. Factors such as roof type, slope, height, and duration of work contribute to the level of risk. Various stages of work need particular attention—from accessing the roof to transferring materials and actually working on the rooftop. Each step presents unique challenges and requires specific safety measures to prevent falls and other accidents.

Access to Roofs
Safe access to the roof must be carefully planned in order to select the most appropriate method and equipment. Potential fall hazards could arise from:

  • Gaps between scaffold work and roof edge when crossing over to the roof from the scaffold (should not be more than 300 mm);
  • Standing on the top rung of an A-frame ladder to climb onto the roof;
  • Lack of secure handholds when transiting from the ladder (A-frame or fixed ladder) onto the roof. This may occur if the ladder does not extend sufficiently from the roof landing (ladder should extend at least 1 m higher);
  • Lack of access control to prevent unauthorised access to roof (e.g., permit-to-work
    [PTW] system);
  • Climbing out of a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) to access the roof is generally not recommended. This should only be considered if all other methods are deemed to be even more hazardous. When exercising this option, continual 100% tie-off to a suitable anchor is needed to ensure the safety of workers. In addition, the following actions should be carried out:
    – The manufacturer of the MEWP should be consulted to establish whether the platform and boom can withstand the forces, moments, and vibration imposed;
    – The manufacturer should be asked if any additional maintenance and inspection
    is required;
    – If an MEWP is used outside of the manufacturer’s intended use, an explicit individual method statement should be written and communicated to all
    those involved in carrying out work on or near the platform. Special attention should be given to the provision of safeguards to prevent persons and goods
    from falling during transfer from platform to building or vice versa,
    trapping or crushing of person or foot during transfer from platform to building
    or vice versa (a person or his foot can accidentally slipped into the gap between platform and building), and a failsafe method of immobilising the unit during transference; and
    – Having 100% tie-off alone may not be adequate. Further caution as mentioned above should be highlighted when MEWP is used to access the roof. The MEWP
    can become a dangerous machine that could severely injure or kill a person
    if it is not properly used for access to roof. If the recommended measures
    are not adequate or comprehensive, the inadequate measures would do more harm than good.
  • Absence of, improper, or inadequate anchorage for use by workers with safety harnesses

    Working on Roof Tops

    There are many potential fall hazards when working on roof tops. These hazards include:
  • falling over an unprotected edge on a roof or from part of a roof structure;
  • falling through a fragile or unstable roof surface (e.g., fragile skylight);
  • falling through openings on roof (e.g., uncompleted area of glass canopy roof); and
  • slipping on wet or smooth roof surface especially on pitched roofs.

Working on Fragile Surfaces: Managing the Risks A considerable number of accidents occur due to falls through fragile roof surfaces. Identifying these surfaces is a critical first step, followed by implementing control measures like crawl boards and roofing ladders, which provide secure platforms for workers. Additionally, specific equipment like safety harnesses should be used to enhance worker safety, especially when working near or on fragile materials.

Control Measures: Hierarchy of Safety The hierarchy of control measures begins with elimination—removing the hazard entirely, followed by substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Each layer of control adds a level of safety, with PPE being the last resort. It’s often necessary to employ multiple controls to adequately manage risks.

Training and Competency: Ensuring Skilled Workforce Workers on roofs must be thoroughly trained and competent in the tasks they are assigned. This involves understanding the hazards, being skilled in using the necessary tools and equipment, and adhering to safety protocols rigorously. Continuous training and accreditation in safety practices are fundamental to maintaining a safe working environment.

Administrative Controls and Safe Work Procedures Administrative controls such as permit-to-work systems play a crucial role in managing high-risk activities. These systems ensure that all safety measures are in place before work begins and are strictly followed throughout the operation. Safe Work Procedures (SWPs) provide a step-by-step guide to carrying out specific tasks safely, addressing everything from the setup of equipment to emergency procedures.

Personal Protective Equipment: A Critical Safety Layer When other control measures are not sufficient, PPE becomes essential. For roof work, this includes travel restraint systems, fall arrest systems, and adequate anchorage. Each piece of equipment must be selected based on the specific hazards of the task and must be properly used and maintained to ensure effectiveness.

Conclusion: Commitment to Safety Maintaining safety on roofs requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders involved—employers, workers, safety officers, and trainers. By adhering to the guidelines outlined in this document and fostering a culture of safety, roofing operations can be performed safely, protecting all personnel involved from the inherent risks of working at heights. This guide not only offers a detailed approach to safe roofing practices but also underscores the importance of ongoing education, vigilance, and adherence to safety standards to prevent accidents and ensure a safe working environment for everyone involved.