Worker fatally injured following fall through shed roof
WorkSafe is issuing a reminder of the dangers of working at heights following a recent fatality.
A horticulture worker was fatally injured when they fell through the roof of a storage shed. The worker had been undertaking maintenance tasks on the roof when a brittle sky-light gave way.
Falls are a leading cause of workplace fatalities. Falls often occur as a result of inadequate fall prevention or incomplete systems of work when working at height.
When working on roofs there may be a risk of an internal fall where:
- there are roof penetrations (for example, vents or exhaust fans)
- there are sky-lights or plastic or polycarbonate sheeting
- the roofing or support structure is fragile or deteriorated (for example, aged asbestos cement sheeting) or the roof strength is unknown
Plastic or polycarbonate sheeting on a roof may increase the risk of internal falls. These materials may be unsafe to walk or stand on, even when new and can degrade and become even more brittle over time. Any areas of plastic or polycarbonate sheeting should be considered unsafe to walk or stand on unless assessed as safe by a competent person.
Dirt, grime and algal growth build up on existing roofs can also make it harder to notice areas of plastic or polycarbonate sheeting, especially if it has the same profile as the surrounding roof sheeting. This may increase the likelihood that persons will inadvertently walk on an unsafe area.
Recommended ways to control risk
Before commencing work on an existing roof, carry out an inspection to identify any internal fall hazards and confirm the integrity of the roofing and roof structure.
Once all areas containing internal fall hazards have been identified, plan out the work to avoid the need to access these areas.
Where it is necessary to access areas containing internal fall hazards, ensure that passive fall prevention devices are used to control the risks, such as:
- guard railing around openings and fragile areas
- engineered coverings installed across openings and fragile areas and secured in place (for example, proprietary systems or appropriately specified plywood sheeting) with warning signs highlighting the hazard
- install safety mesh – do not rely on existing safety mesh as it can become compromised over time
- performing the task from an elevating work platform (EWP) or scaffold to gain access to the work area, whilst still avoiding the need to access the roof
If it is not reasonably practicable to use a passive fall protection device, follow the hierarchy of falls prevention to reduce the risk using controls such as a work positioning system (travel-restraint system) or a fall arrest system.
If used, travel-restraint and fall arrest systems must have adequately installed anchorage points and users must be provided with adequate information, instruction and training in their safe use.
The hierarchy of falls prevention
Where there is a risk of falling more than two metres, employers must eliminate the risk, so far as is reasonably practicable; for example by working from the ground or a solid construction.
If the risk of falling cannot be eliminated, employers must, as far as is reasonably practicable, reduce the risk by using a passive fall prevention device such as a scaffold, guardrails, safety mesh or an EWP.
If it is not reasonably practicable to use a passive fall prevention device, use a work positioning system, such as an industrial rope access system or travel-restraint system, to ensure employees work within a safe area.
If it is not reasonably practicable to use a work positioning system, use a fall arrest system, such as a harness, catch platform or safety nets, to limit the risk of injuries in the event of a fall.
If it is not reasonably practicable to use a fall arrest system, use a fixed or portable ladder or administrative controls such as safe work procedures to prevent employees from accessing brittle and fragile roofs, and display appropriate safety signage.
Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. They must, so far as is reasonably practicable:
- provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors
- provide and maintain plant or systems of work that are safe and without risks to health
- provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health
- ensure that people other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the employer's conduct
- consult with employees and health and safety representatives when identifying or assessing hazards or risks and making decisions about risk control measures
Both employers and self-employed persons must:
- ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons (other than employees) are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the employer or self-employed person’s undertaking
In addition, where there is a risk of a person falling from a height of more than two metres, employers have specific duties under Part 3.3 (Prevention of falls) of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, including:
- establishing emergency procedures and
- preparing and following a safe work method statement