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    HSE ROOFWORK GUIDE HIGHLIGHTS CLIENT KEY ROLE

    Revised code spells out ‘hierarchy’ of controls for fragile materials risk

    A fourth edition of Health and safety in roof work has been published by HSE and can be downloaded free of charge from the HSE website.

    The guide stresses that the main problems are falls through fragile roofing materials and falls from unprotected roof edges and that “too often a lack of foresight and poor management control mean that protection is neglected during high-risk work.”

    The book contains guidance on how to plan and work safely on roofs. It covers new buildings, repair, maintenance, cleaning work and demolition. It also includes guidance for those not directly carrying out work on the roof e.g. clients, building owners, designers and specifiers.

    Clients must not place “unreasonable demands” on the project

    HSE stress that roof work is not solely an issue for construction firms. Building maintenance staff and others fall from or through roofs. The guide states that those who own, occupy or have responsibility for a building have an important role to play when procuring roof works.

    On commercial construction projects the client must take steps to make sure those engaged are competent for the job and advice on client assessment of contractor competence is provided. The client should also make sure that the relevant pre-construction information is provided.  The guide adds:

    “Unrealistic building or refurbishment programmes can lead to undue pressure on those carrying out the work. This can make it harder for contractors to plan for safe working, to prepare quality safety method statements and to review and amend systems of work. Clients have an important role here. They must not place unreasonable demands on the project.”

    Roofwork project clients are required to:

    • provide enough time and resource for the project to be delivered safely;
    • take steps to make sure that management arrangements are suitable;
    • make sure welfare facilities are provided on the site;
    • ensure the structure is designed to comply with the Workplace Regulations;
    • provide pre-construction information to interested parties;
    • check the competence of those whom they appoint; and
    • co-operate and co-ordinate activities.

    On ‘notifiable’ projects the client must appoint a CDM co-ordinator and a principal contractor and if a client dictates the design details the client should comply with the duties placed on designers by CDM.

    Priority must be given to working below fragile roofs

    Falls through fragile surfaces account for 22% of all the fatal accidents which result from a fall from height in the construction industry and those working in the maintenance sector are also affected involving a range of fragile surfaces.

    In particular, the following are likely to be fragile: old roof lights; old liner panels on built-up sheeted roofs; non-reinforced fibre cement sheets; corroded metal sheets; glass (including wired glass); rotted chipboard or similar; wood wool slabs; and slates and tiles.

    Falls through fragile materials are a particular problem in both the roof work and building maintenance sectors. This is particularly important for small, short-term maintenance and cleaning jobs. See ACR Guidance note Safe working on fragile roofs.

    The guide stats that the ‘hierarchy’ for work on fragile roofs is:

    • Work from below: work from underneath the roof using a suitable work platform;
    • MEWPS: consider using a MEWP that allows people to work from within the MEWP basket without standing on the roof itself;
    • Edge protection: if access onto the fragile roof cannot be avoided, perimeter edge protection should be installed and staging used to spread the load.
    • Safety nets: unless all the work and access is on staging or platforms that are fitted with guard rails, safety nets should be installed underneath the roof or a harness system used; and
    • Harness systems: where harnesses are used they need adequate anchorage points. They also rely on discipline, training and supervision to make sure that they are used consistently and correctly.

    The guide provides a final reminder that

    “Some roof coverings can give a false sense of security to those who are working on or passing by them. They may be capable of carrying some distributed load, giving the impression that they can bear a person’s weight, but they might not carry a concentrated load, eg the heel of someone walking or someone stumbling and falling.

    A stumble may cause the roof to fail instantly like a trap door. For example, asbestos cement and other non-reinforced fibre cement sheeting are liable to shatter without warning under a stumble. They will also become more brittle with age.”

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