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Working on fragile surfaces

Posted on 10th Aug, 2015 | By Lorretta Tatham

Working at a height poses many risks in a huge range of industries. One of these risks comes from working at a height on fragile surfaces – for example, as part of a roofing job. In fact, almost a quarter of fatal falls from a height are a result of people falling through fragile surfaces. In today’s blog we’re looking at the how to work on fragile surfaces safely, giving advice and guidance to ensure that you too don’t become a statistic.

Unless you’re working on solid ground, there’s good reason to be cautious of the surface you are working on. It can be much more flimsy than it looks or seems. When this is the case, the surface won’t be able to support your body weight, let alone the materials you may be carrying.

Fragile surfaces in the workplace

While it’s important to be mindful about fragile surfaces with every job, there are some surfaces that should always be approached with caution, as listed below:

  • Fibre-cement sheets
  • Rooflights
  • Linear panels
  • Metal sheets
  • Glass
  • Chipboards
  • Slates and tiles

All of these surfaces carry potential dangers. All it takes is a little corrosion or wear and tear for these types of surfaces to carry serious risks. What’s more, fragile roofing doesn’t just carry risks for the worker, there’s also the threat of fragile roofing materials falling and striking passers-by.

Minimising accidents and danger in the workplace

The Health and Safety Executive has issued lots of advice when it comes to safe working on fragile surfaces. Firstly they recommend carrying out a risk assessment for all roof work, to identify any dangerous materials and potential risks. If a roof has been found to be fragile, the HSE advises workers work through the following steps:

Avoidance: The minimum numbers possible should access the roof, limiting danger across the team. Where possible, work should also be carried out from a platform rather than a roof. Limiting the number of people accessing fragile surfaces as well as the actual time on the fragile surface itself is key.

Control: It’s important that unauthorised access to the area is prevented. While workers may know the risks that roofing poses, others who may have access to the site may not. Other controls such as PPE equipment should also be used where required.

Communication: Appropriate signs should be displayed on roofs and at roof access points. All workers should also be briefed and properly trained about the dangers and safety precautions to follow.

Co-operation: Ensuring a smooth workflow and knowledge-share between contractors and clients is key to preventing accidents.

Failure to carry out a risk assessment and follow the points above may lead to compensation claims – should an accident should occur. You can read about one example of this here, where a company received £3,000 in fines after failing to protect their workers against the risks of fragile surfaces.

Don’t let your workers or company become victim to fragile surfaces too.

Have you ever had an accident resulting from working on fragile surfaces? If so, tell us your story in the comments below or tweet it to us @BrownsLadders

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