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INQUEST HEARS OF ‘UNPREDICTABLE’ FRAGILE ROOFS

Fatal fall through fragile roof highlights need for radical change in methods

An inquest in Rochdale has concluded that the death of 61-year-old builder Michael McAiney, who fell 5m through a fibre cement roof, was an ‘accidental death’.

The jury heard that the building where he fell was owned by WHT Holdings Ltd who leased the premises to furniture retailer John Moran. There were leaks in the roof at the junctions of the roofsheets and rooflights.

Mr McAiney was said to be and experienced roofer who had been hired by friend, John Moran, to repair leaks in the roof for a fee of £600 at the furniture warehouse in Factory Street, Bury. Mr McAiney was discovered fatally injured at the premises after he failed to return home. 

Consultant pathologist Dr Kuku Baden said that Mr McAiney had suffered multiple injuries, including a punctured lung as a result of his ribs being broken when he fell, a fractured skull, brain haemorrhage and bruises to his head and body. 

Fragile roof ‘Russian Roulette’

HSE Inspector John Merry, who visited the site on 20th November 2009, said there was nothing to suggest the roof was any worse than any others of a similar age. He added:

“The asbestos cement roof is likely to be the original roof from when the building was erected in the 1940s or 1950s. It is a very common roofing structure but it has an inherent unpredictability.

You can stand on one part with no problem then step on another and it could fail. But there was nothing to suggest the roof was any worse or any better than similar types of roofs.”

Mr Merry is reported to have said he could not find a breach of law and there would be no prosecution. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

Comment

This death provides further justification for an approach to fragile rooflight repairs that involves the work being undertaken more safely from below using MEWPs. The challenge is in communicating such approaches to smaller clients and roofing contractors.

The continuing incidence of fatal falls through fragile material and associated legal proceedings seem to leave untouched those on the edges of mainstream construction. More explicit guidance on practical precautions and client focused publicity across all business premises may be the best way forward.  

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