17 May Preventing falls when working at heights
If humans could fly, they would have been born with wings – but because they are not, preventing falls is a responsibility of employers , especially if their employees are working at heights.
There was recently a case where a contractor had been engaged to assist in a re-roofing job for a friend. Unfortunately, he slipped and fell onto the concrete below on his side, and ended up in hospital with broken ribs, a punctured lung, a broken rib puncture to the pericardial sac of his heart, and a concussion from hitting the side of his head on the concrete. In short, he is extremely lucky to be alive!
This type of serious accident happens far too often, and is the result of falls from standing or walking on fiberglass or similar composite materials that skylights are made of. The skylight will remain in their form for many years, but due to sunlight, they can become brittle.
Another issue that can make falls more likely is the growth of moss or lichen, coupled with general dirt and grime on the skylights. Slipping on this can be fatal, or cause a longterm serious injury (e.g. becoming quadriplegic).
Another instance to be wary of, is working on roofs made of asbestos (e.g. old Super 10 fibrolite roofs, etc). Asbestos can be slippery, and could be cracked or brittle.
Preventing falls is better than a cure
A few tips for preventing falls from happening:
- Make sure that you have the contract or tender in writing from the client.
- Ask for the client’s safety procedures for working at height and adhere to them.
- Survey the work to be undertaken and determine the roofing materials.
- If possible, obtain an aerial plan of the roof area or use a drone to photograph it, and then mark all the access points and skylights.
- Develop a SSSP or JSA for the work, in consultation with your staff who will be working on the roof. Use the 5×5 method of hazard identification, and record all actual and potential hazards and risks.
- Install any required fall protection.
- If safety harnesses are to used, check the testing certification and the training of your staff:
- Safety harness training;
- Working from heights;
- Working on mobile platforms.
- Ensure that the access and egress points are adequate, all access ladder ladders are well secured, and extended 1 metre above the roof access landing point.
- Set up and secure the safety drop zone for all unwanted materials, cone and fence this area off, and place the appropriate notices (especially if you are working with aged asbestos).
- When waterblasting roofs, the operator usually walks backwards so they are not working on a slippery surface. To mitigate the risk of stepping onto a skylight:
- Locate all sky lights; and either
- Cover with sheets of ply; or
- Cone off with tiger tails; or
- If the skylight is being removed or replaced, paint with a high glow dazzle paint and still cone off.
- Walk your employees (who are engaged in the task) across the roof (only if it is safe to), and point out the covered skylights and any other hazards.
- Review the SSSP/JSA with them, and identify any other worksite hazards, e.g. low hanging electric power lines, damaged roof material, etc., and record this on the SSSP.
- As the work progresses, monitor the health and safety issues, and maintain communication with the employees.
Stay safe, and don’t become a casuality!
Please contact us if you would like to discuss.