Working on roofs involves a high degree of risk, Safe Work NSW and other State and Federal Regulators have been concerned at the mounting number of injuries and death when workers are fitting Solar panels to cottage roofs.

Fitting Solar panels and equipment to the roofs of cottages and other buildings such as high Rise & Industrial Buildings leaves the worker exposed to hazards such as roof access, fragile roofs, electricity, manual tasks, falling objects, exposure to heat and sunlight.

All work on roofs is highly dangerous, even if a job only takes a few minutes. Proper precautions are needed to control these risks and such work may be considered ‘construction work ‘which includes work carried out in connection with fitting to, altering, converting, renovating, repairing, maintaining, demolishing, or dismantling a roof of a structure.

Examples of these activities include tiling, roofing restoration and installing solar panels. Minor work on roofs that is not considered ‘construction work’, for example cleaning roof gutters or replacing individual roof tiles, can also have the same hazards, especially the risk of falls.

Safe Work require those carrying out work on roofs must be trained, competent and instructed in use of the precautions required though do not mandate this training. A ‘method statement’ is the common way to help manage work on roofs and communicate the precautions to those involved.

Contractors should work closely with the client and agree arrangements for managing the work specifically for roof access, roof edges, openings, skylights, and fragile roofs

There is a misconception that Working at height means working at a height of 2 meters or more.

Working at heights is where there is a risk of falling from one level to another – injury and death may occur in heights less than 2 meters and falls from any height can leave workers with permanent and debilitating injuries such as fractures, spinal cord injuries, concussion and brain damage. The risk of serious injury or death from a fall increases when working on roofs.

Hazards to consider in managing fall risks include:

  • unprotected edges
  • fragile surfaces
  • skylights
  • holes or vents

Additionally, weather conditions such as wind and rain (for example being blown over the edge or slipping on a wet roof surface), trip hazards (for example roof components and protrusions) and overbalancing when close to an edge while hauling components onto the roof or losing grip on steep pitched or sloping roofs.

Workers such as electricians, plumbers, pest control operators, installers of roof aerials, solar panels, and air-conditioning systems, can trip and fall on roofs, through roofs and openings or while accessing or exiting roof areas.

Work Safe statistical figures suggest almost one in five deaths in construction work involve roof work. Some are specialist roofers, but many are just repairing and cleaning roofs.

  • Main causes: the main causes of death and injury are falling from roof edges or openings, through fragile roofs and through fragile roof lights.
  • Equipment and people: many accidents could be avoided if suitable equipment was used and those doing the work were given adequate information, instruction, training and supervision.

When planning to work on a roof one of the first areas we should look to is the safe access to a roof which requires careful planning, particularly where work progresses along the roof.

Typical methods to access roofs are:

  • general access scaffolds;
  • stair towers;
  • fixed or mobile scaffold towers;
  • mobile access equipment;
  • ladders
  • roof access hatches.

Roof edges and openings

Falls from roof edges occur on both commercial and domestic projects and on new build and refurbishment jobs. Many deaths occur each year involving smaller builders working on the roof of domestic dwellings

  • Sloping roofs: sloping roofs require scaffolding to prevent people or materials falling from the edge. You must also fit edge protection to the eaves of any roof and on terraced properties to the rear as well as the front. Where work is of short duration (tasks measured in minutes), properly secured ladders to access the roof and appropriate roof ladders may be used.
  • Flat roofs: falls from flat roof edges can be prevented by simple edge protection arrangements (there are several different types of edge protection available) – which can be easily mounted and secure the roof edge

Fragile surfaces

Special care needs to be taken when working on fragile roofs, follow a safe system of work using a platform beneath the roof where possible. Work on or near fragile roof surfaces requires a possible combination of staging’s, guard rails, fall restraint, fall arrest and safety nets slung beneath and close to the roof.

  • Fragile roofs: all roofs should be treated as fragile until a competent person has confirmed they are not. Do not trust any sheeted roof, whatever the material, to bear the weight of a person. This includes the roof ridge and purlins.
  • Fragile roof lightsare a particular hazard. Some are difficult to see in certain light conditions and others may be hidden by paint. You must provide protection in these areas, either by using barriers or covers that are secured and labelled with a warning.

The risk of falls must be managed using the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable, in accordance with the hierarchy of controls. If a single control measure is not enough, a combination of control measures can be used. In order of the hierarchy of control, control measures start with eliminating the risk of falls by avoiding the need to work at height.

For example, installing air-conditioning and similar units at ground level, using devices with extension handles to reach items on or near the roof.

Reducing the amount of time spent working on roofs if working at height cannot be avoided, providing the following safe systems of work such as fall prevention devices. This may be achieved through roof safety mesh, guard railing, scaffolding or elevating work platforms if fall prevention devices are not reasonably practicable, use work positioning systems. Additional systems include travel restraints—these are designed to prevent workers from reaching an edge where they could fall, or if work positioning systems are not reasonably practicable, use fall-arrest systems.

Examples of fall arrest systems include catch platforms, individual fall-arrest systems with harnesses and anchor points and safety nets—these are designed to reduce the severity of injury in a fall. For minor roof tasks of short duration (less than a couple of hours) that are carried out in good weather conditions on a standard single storey roof where the roof itself is flat or almost flat, structurally stable, and non-slippery, safe work procedures (e.g., ensuring workers maintain a 2-metre distance from all exposed edges when working on the roof) and the safe use of ladders may be sufficient to minimise the risk of a fall.

Safe Work NSW has released a SOLAR Installers check list which may be found on their web site…/solar-installers-safety-checklist other Regulators have work practice documents providing information on Safe Work on roofs, these documents are supported by regulation and should assist in the preparation of safe work practices which may be reflected in the Safe Work Statements.

The safety guide provides the solar industry with clear direction on controlling risk, including a simple safety checklist for people working in the industry, instructions on developing a site-specific safe work method statement and minimum fall protection measures. Businesses that sell, design and install solar systems have duties to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe, and no solar installer should be working on a roof without fall protection in place.