Q&A with WHS Manager Alana Morris

Posted 14 February 2020

Q&A with WHS Manager Alana Morris

Q: I am a residential builder - What are my Work Health and Safety requirements when undertaking roofing work?

A: Roofing work is the planning, preparation and conduct of work for the installation, maintenance and removal of roof coverings, including roof trusses, and the movement of persons working on roofs.

The person conducting a business or undertaking must undertake a thorough site-specific risk assessment to identify the hazards and risks present. The outcome of the risk assessment will provide an insight into the appropriate control measures for eliminating or minimising the hazards.

Workers who install roofs and work on roof framing will be exposed to the risk of falling through the roof framing where there are no appropriate control measures in place to prevent the fall. These falls can result in serious injuries that have a significant impact on the ability of the worker to continue in this type of work activity. In some situations, fatalities have occurred.

The nature of roof frame design and the work methods adopted for their construction present a falling risk to workers who will be installing the framing and its cladding. The greater the openings in the roof frame during construction, the greater the risks for a worker to fall through those openings.

Examples of workers at risk of falling through roof framing can include workers:

  • installing roof framing where trusses and rafters exceed 600mm centres;
  • installing roof bracing;
  • measuring the top chord for batten set out;
  • installing battens and sarking; and,
  • installing metal or tile cladding.

It is accepted that one control measure nominated for one site may not be relevant for another site. For this reason, all jobs need to be approached individually and a risk assessment must be undertaken to allow the person in control of business or undertaking or self-employed person to decide on the most appropriate control measures.

There are several control measures that can be used to prevent a person falling. The control measure adopted would be determined by the hazards and risks present at the time. Below are some example control measures, although not comprehensive, that could be used, depending on the outcome of the risk assessment.

Spacing of 600mm, although not totally ideal, can result in roof members that are within reach and thus allow some degree of movement around the framework during their installation and cladding of the roof.

On existing roofs, where the roof surface is being replaced, it is acknowledged that the existing framework may have rafters or trusses at centres greater than 600mm centres. The installation of additional rafters or trusses to reduce the spacing will generally be impractical and the risk associated with installing additional trusses will outweigh the advantages achieved. In these circumstances another control measure would be more appropriate.

Where it is decided to build the roof framing members at greater than 600mm spacings the resulting openings will be significant, and it will be difficult for the worker to move around safely. A control measure must be in place that will prevent the worker from both an internal and external fall during the truss installation.

Where roof batten installation is to occur once the truss frames are in position, roof battens must be installed at centres not exceeding 450mm. Ceiling battens are not roof battens. The 450mm centres of the roof battens significantly reduce the openings due to the increased truss spacings. The battens must be strong enough to span the top chords of trusses or rafters and prevent a worker falling through the spacing of the roof members during the installation of the battens.

The installation of the roof battens themselves present a degree of risk because of the framing member spacings that the worker will be moving around on. Therefore:

  • a control measure must be in place to prevent both an internal and external fall to the person installing the battens;
  • roof battens must be installed from the roof edge up the pitch of the roof;
  • workers must not be located above the height of the battens prior to batten installation; and,
  • perimeter battens to ridges, hips and valleys must not be installed before the battens to the body of the roof have been installed.

Ceiling battens are not an acceptable control measure to arrest a worker's fall. While some parties claim that ceiling battens will not fail when a falling worker strikes the batten, they have been unable to demonstrate that injuries will not be substantial.

Where the roof framing members are greater than 600mm spacings a barrier, such as safety mesh, can be installed on the top chords of the trusses that will prevent workers falling.

Due to the increased spacing between roof framing members, there will be a risk of falling for the worker who is installing the barrier mesh. During installation of the barrier:

  • a control measure must be in place to prevent both an internal and external fall to the person installing the barrier;
  • the barrier must be fixed and joined in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions; and,
  • the barrier must be capable of controlling the risk of falling for workers who are required to work on top of the roof framing.

Another option is to provide a fall arresting platform on the bottom chord of the roof trusses to arrest a worker's fall.

A fall arrest platform is only as strong as the members that support it. Where the platform is supported by a bottom chord of a truss, there must be confirmation from the truss manufacturer that the member can sustain the additional loads it may be subject to.

Remember – ‘working more than 2m off the ground’ is a high-risk work activity and a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) must be developed, in consultation with affected workers and other duty holders, and communicated prior to commencing the high-risk activity.

For further information on WHS Legislation and obligations, register for our free WHS legislation workshop next Wednesday 19th February at 8am here.

If you have any WHS related enquiries, please don’t hesitate to contact our WHS Manager, Alana Morris on 02 6175 5900

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