Working at Height Safety Measures
Working at heights requires special precautions for obvious reasons. Roofing safety is really important. Falls from height still account for one-fifth of the deaths in the construction industry; they are the biggest killer in the industry, yet still people chance their arm, especially in the domestic market. Having seen one former colleague suffer an accident that meant that he could never walk again, another break his leg and countless near misses, I can tell you that it is just not worth risking your neck to save money or to win contracts. People often say that health and safety are expensive, but there is a saying to the effect that ‘if you think health and safety are expensive then you should try accidents’, and in our litigious world it was never truer. Approximately 8.5 percent of tender prices are lost due to deaths and injuries and the resulting claims and court actions in the construction industry.
For any short-term work (less than an hour) the minimum safety equipment required on a pitched roof is an access ladder plus a roof ladder. However, if you have good edge protection and you can use the battens (which must be in good condition) as footholds, then normally you do not necessarily need a roof ladder.
For anything more extensive than a few roof repairs you should have a suitable working platform. This can be anything from a lightweight, quick-form tower (from a hire shop) to a full tube and fitting scaffold. The choice is based on the risks involved, but certainly for full new or re-roofs you should employ a competent scaffolder to erect a scaffold fit for purpose. The working platform should be as close to the eaves as possible (set no more than 300mm down), because you should be able to step safely on and off the roof without any risk of injury.
You should also ensure that, if there is any chance that you could fall through a roof (that is, between the rafters), you should consider the risks and put the correct controls in place. Internal protection can range from boarding out above the ceiling joists, to air bags and full safety netting on larger projects.
Roofing Safety Checklist
The following checklists should help with regard to providing a safer working environment while carrying out roofing work:
Access ladders must:
- be set at an angle of 75 degrees (a ratio of one out, four up);
- securely lashed or clamped (preferably at the top) or footed by another person;
- extend at least 1m or five rungs over the step-off point;
- be climbed and descended by using at least three points of contact (that is, two feet and at least one hand).
Roof ladders must:
- be of sufficient length to reach the access ladder;
- be factory-made to recognized quality standards, not hand-made from timber;
- be lashed to the access ladder close to the step-off point.
Working platforms must:
- be fully boarded and close to the eaves;
- have a handrail at 950mm or more up from the working platform;
- have an intermediate safety rail between the working platform and the handrail;
- have toe-boards with a minimum height of 150mm;
- be fitted with brick guards or similar, especially when stripping roofs.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Personal protective equipment is the last resort in health and safety. This means that, if you have to put yourself at risk to do the work because there is no other way of designing out the hazards, then you need to wear the right equipment. The standard PPE for a roofer would include a pair of heavy-duty gloves to wear when loading the tiles or slates, appropriate protective footwear, a hard hat and, when mixing or using a disc cutter, eye protection, ear defenders and dust masks. When choosing PPE you should always ensure that the items are fit for purpose, especially eye protection, which should be selected to cope with any impact force that may be placed on it. If in doubt, then always buy from a reputable hire shop or DIY store and explain what you want the PPE for before buying it. But, whatever you do, do not just go for the cheapest, getting the right equipment could save you from a bad injury.
From 2012 it is a legal requirement to use dust suppression when cutting all roof tiles and related materials, due to the risks involved with the inhalation of silica and other dusts. The standard method is to use water attachments, which are available to fit most disc cutters. The appropriate PPE must also be worn by users and others who may be at risk.
Lowering and Lifting Materials
Wherever possible, you should try to avoid carrying things up or down a ladder because of the risks involved with your falling or dropping something. Often, of course, on small projects and one-offs it is not practicable to hire or buy specialist equipment, but I shall briefly cover the main ones in use for those who may be intending to work in more commercial environments.
Virtually every site will now have a forklift truck to move, load and unload lorries and raise and lower materials. Only trained and designated people should operate the forklift. Materials raised to working-platform level should be placed on special loading bays designed to take their weight, not on the main scaffolding.
Vertical Cage Hoist
Cage hoists are normally used on buildings that are of three storeys or more and, in particular, where there are many pedestrians such as a town centre or in public buildings. They should be erected and dismantled by approved, competent people only, and the user must have undergone the correct training (often training is carried out on the job, by the hire company).
The roofs on most one- and two-storey properties can be serviced by an inclined hoist. There is a range of these available, normally they are designed to take bricks and blocks as well as slates and tiles up to the working platform and they do this via a series of raised plates attached to a belt or chain driven by a fuel-powered generator at the bottom. Unlike a cage hoist, which is for others to erect and dismantle, most inclined hoists are set up, used and taken down by the roofer. When purchasing one of these hoists the companies often offer free training on how to do this safely.
When stripping a roof it is important to ensure that you use a chute or some other safe means of lowering the materials (for example, in a container by forklift truck). This is particularly important in areas where you would expect to find many pedestrians or on a public highway. Chutes should be erected and dismantled by a competent person, normally the same one who erected the scaffold.
For small loads that can be properly secured and pulled up by hand, gin wheels can prove an effective, low-cost item. Apart from the obvious point of not trying to lift or lower more weight than you are physically comfortable with, the important things to remember are that the gin wheel should be in good condition and correctly fixed to the scaffold, the rope must be also be in good condition, the area below cordoned off (just in case), the method of hooking and unhooking pre-established and the user wearing gloves.