Fragile roofs

Lesson Progress:

Fragile roofs

There are many fatal and serious injuries from people falling through fragile roofs and roof lights.

The following surfaces are likely to be fragile.

  • Roof lights.
  • Old liner panels on built-up sheeted roofs.
  • Asbestos and fibre cement sheets.
  • Metal sheets.
  • Glass, including wired glass.
  • Chipboard and plywood boards.
  • Slates and tiles.

Asbestos and fibre cement sheets are obvious, but fragile roof lights, which look like the more secure surrounding roof structure over time, are not so obvious.

Many people are not aware that parts of a roof are fragile.

You should not assume that a roof will support your weight or try to walk near the underlying supports.

All fragile roofs should be considered to be unsafe unless additional protection has been provided. It is sometimes difficult to see a fragile surface, especially if a roof is dirty, weathered, covered by moss or has been painted. Buildings with a fragile material roof covering should show warning signage (as shown in the image below) but this will not always be the case.

A safe system of work must be put in place and, as a priority, work on a roof (particularly a fragile roof) should be avoided where possible. An example of a safe system of work would be to work from underneath the roof using a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP).

Fragile roof and crawling board signs
Using a MEWP to work underneath the roof

A safe system of work should also consider the following.

  • Suitable access is provided (such as a stair tower or ladder) or a MEWP is used.
  • If the work has to be carried out from above the fragile surface, specialist working platforms with handrails should be provided. These are designed to span the roof purlins and evenly distribute the loading applied.
  • Physical barriers or covers around or on fragile surfaces (such as roof lights or sky lights).
  • The installation of safety netting, crash decks or airbags underneath the roof.
  • Anchor points, work restraint systems, fall-arrest lanyards and safety harnesses.
  • Arrangements for emergency situations, including how rescue will be carried out for casualties who have fallen into a safety net or are suspended by a harness.
Never try to access or cross a fragile roof without a safe system of work.