Fragile Roof


November 1, 2008

Before going to work on a roof, verify that that your employer has identified hazards and assessed risks.

An official danger sign may not be there. Your job requires that you go on a roof, and you suspect that the roof won’t hold. Advice: Don’t put yourself at risk; don’t go there. Awareness of your work area, wherever or whatever it may be – even if a roof – is critical to your safety. Falls through roofs are common, and injuries that result from falls are usually serious, often fatal. Any work on a roof is a risk.

Don’t start work, whether it’s maintenance or any other type of work, if you think it will be necessary to:

  • Go onto a roof that is or looks fragile;
  • Go onto a structure with an unprotected edge more than 6 feet high;
  • Climb onto or over a plant structure, such as a crusher or electric motor, which will put you above the edge protection; or
  • If you think that you make be at risk in any way.

A subcontractor was recently injured when he fell through a fragile roof. He had stepped out onto the plywood roof to pull welding cables up the plant. The plywood gave way, and he fell through to his chest. If he had not been caught at the chest, he would have fallen 15 feet to the ground.

Good advice for workers is simply not to go out onto a roof unless you know that the risk has been assessed, the work properly planned, and safe work practices established. Work can be done safely on a fragile roof if ladders, crawl boards, toe board or other edge protection, guardrails, and even fall protection equipment, such as safety harnesses, if necessary, are being used.

Fragile materials will not safely support the weight of a person and any heavy loads they may be carrying. Fragility does not depend solely on the composition of the material of the roof, but also thickness, span between supports, sheet profile, type of fixings, design, and age. Sometimes an entire roof is fragile, and sometimes only parts, such as roof lights, are fragile. Sometimes fragility is disguised, such as in the case of an old roof that has been newly painted.

Fragile roofing materials can fracture without warning. Factures can occur so rapidly that someone could easily fall through the fragile roofing material, suffering serious or even fatal injuries. You should assume that a roof is fragile until it has been determined that it is not fragile.

Before going to work on a roof or using a roof as a means of access to get to another area, you should verify that your employer has identified hazards and assessed risks. Before assigning roof work, employers must consider all factors of that work that may affect the health and safety of workers. These factors include the following:

  • Inspect perimeter walls for warning notices;
  • Inspect roof to determine the presence, condition, and extent of fragile components and the general structural integrity of the roof, including cladding and supports, and distribution of load;
  • Skylights must be secured with safety wire mesh above and below each fixture, and they should be inspected regularly;
  • Post appropriate warning signs at access points if roof is fragile;
  • Check the existence and condition of safety mesh;
  • Verify a safe means of getting up and down; and
  • During harsh weather, including rain, snow, ice, or wind, roofing material conditions may change. A thorough inspection must be done.

The nature of the precautions needed to work safely on a roof will vary from job to job. As for all jobs, however, employers must ensure that workers assigned to roof jobs are trained in the particularities of the work – that they have the knowledge, skills, and experience to work safely – on a roof – and that they are aware of fragile areas and how to work around them. General safety rules for working on a fragile roof include the following:

  • Look for and heed signs such as “Danger Fragile Roof” and “Use Crawl Boards” that may be posted at access points to the roof;
  • Use appropriate access equipment, whether crawl boards, roof ladders, walkways, and/or planks;
  • Use appropriate fall arrest gear – safety harnesses attached to suitable anchorages – when you must work near fragile roof material;
  • Do not walk upright on a fragile roof unless appropriate equipment is in place;
  • Keep roof work areas clear of debris and clutter that could cause a trip and fall; and
  • Wear suitable shoes that control slipping.

Information contained in this article was provided through the MSHA-NSSGA Alliance and was written cooperatively by members of both the aggregates industry and the regulatory agency.

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