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FRAGILE ROOF RISK AGAIN IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Partners prosecuted after boy falls to his death through fragile rooflight

A farming partnership in Scotland has been fined over £13k at Elgin Sheriff Court after a 13-year-old boy fell through the roof of a farm building and died.

On 21 August 2006, Austin Irvine, the stepson of the farm’s junior partner was raised up to roof level in the bucket of a tractor by his stepfather to watch gutter clearing work.

The young boy walked onto the roof and as he stepped on a rooflight it failed under his weight causing him to fall over 4m to the ground. He suffered serious injuries from which he later died.

Tragic death preventable

Investigation by HSE revealed no proper edge protection or measures to prevent falls through the asbestos cement sheets or the fragile rooflight.

John Irvine and Son, of Inverlochy Farm, Tomintoul, Ballindalloch, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Following the case, HSE Inspector Ann Poyner said:

“This tragedy should never have happened and could have been prevented if John Irvine and Son had properly assessed the risks of working on a fragile roof and taken steps to prevent falls through the roof.

“Farmers and those working in agriculture frequently carry out roof work, yet fail to appreciate the risks involved are always substantial. If possible, avoid going on fragile roofs and always keep children clear of high risk activities.

If you are planning this type of work should always make sure you have the right equipment to ensure that the work area is strong enough to work from and that guard rails are in place at open edges and suitable access is provided.”

Comment

Fatal falls through fragile surfaces are frequently reported on our website. This is a particularly senseless and tragic case. Why do such deaths still occur when the dangers and consequences are apparently so well known? 

Firstly, part of the explanation is that the construction and agricultural industries (and the regulators) have not effectively communicated the message to clients, contractors and the workforce. 

The hazard presented by work on or near fragile surfaces must be at the top of the agenda for all businesses occupying buildings with fibre cement roofs and rooflights. 

The regulators should also increase the priority given to this hazards through publicity, inspection and proactive enforcement where necessary.

Secondly, the hazard and required precautions relating to fragile materials are covered in general guidance on roof work. However, the risk can be difficult to control.

Do we now need further simple guidance focused on (1) the practical steps that can be taken to avoid working on fragile surfaces and (2) usable and effective solutions when working on or near such materials is unavoidable?     

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