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Roberts Consulting
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On 16th January 1991, a well respected British roofing consultant was killed carrying out a roof inspection. Four weeks later, I was asked to step into his shoes and carry on his work. It was a salutary experience meeting his clients who knew him well and being told how careful and cautious the chap was - and yet he fell to his death.

Roof inspections, by their very nature, usually require access to selected parts of a roof for a relatively short period of time to observe and record its condition. There is a large quantity of written advice dealing with safe methods for roof construction work. However, for short duration non-extensive inspection work, these recommended safety measures may not be appropriate.

Roof inspections are often not seen as 'construction work' within the context of the latest Regulations. Therefore, requirements such as the provision of comprehensive roof edge protection may not apply. An everyday example of such a situation is the initial inspection of an aged roof built before 1995, perhaps to prepare a tender for re-roofing works. Other occupational health and safety legislation, particularly relating to fragile roofs, may be applicable but only so far as is reasonably practicable and safe.

This paper brings together simple inspection rules and good advice under seven stages following a logical sequence for carrying out a roof inspection:

1 Enquiry
2 Arrival On Site
3 Internal Inspection
4 Going Up
5 Moving Around
6 Coming Down
7 Leaving Site



1. Is there a need to actually go onto the roof?
Could the roof survey be carried out using binoculars and cameras with zoom lenses, especially if the roof has a steep pitch?
2. Establish the type of roof and prepare a first assessment of risk, considering:
  i) Roof pitch.
ii) Weak and fragile materials (asbestos sheet/ woodwool slab/ rooflights/ corroded steel deck/ rotted timber boards).
iii) Edge protection.
iv) Fire.
v) Other hazards (gas releases, other works in progress).
vi) Provision of secure anchorages for attaching full body safety harnesses.
3. Consider means of access
Access could be via a permanent staircase, a fixed ladder, a temporary ladder secured at the top, a tower scaffold, a mobile platform or a mechanical hoist.
4. Establish whether there is a Safety Officer for the site
This is most likely to be the case on larger establishments. Arrange to make contact on arrival at the site, especially when further inspections are also required.
5. Never work alone
Arrange for an escort, perhaps a member of the Clients' site staff, a Contractor in attendance or another member of your own firm.
6. Contractor to be in attendance
When opening-up inspections are required, arrange for suitable tradesmen to be in attendance to remove and later reinstate elements of roofing and cladding in a safe manner with the correct tools.
7. Always take a positive approach - safety comes first
Plan ahead and allow for safety provisions within budget proposals.

1. Allow time for preparing to go up onto the roof
Do not rush. Adopt a methodical unhurried approach.
2. Dress Properly
  i) Footwear - flexible with a good grip and non slip.
ii) Jacket/over trousers - if wet weather is expected.
iii) A hat - to keep warm in the winter and to protect from the sun in the summer.
iv) No loose ties or scarves - when working near mechanical plant.
v) Safety helmet - essential on operational construction sites.
3. Take the correct equipment
  i) Daysack or holdall that can be carried, while keeping both hands free.
ii) A strong nylon rope, to lift up larger items of equipment.
iii) Small first aid kit - including Anthissan for wasp/bee stings, and sun cream.
iv) Full body safety harness and lanyard.
4. Make contact with the permanent site staff and sign in
Establish whether there are any others working on the roof and whether any special precautions are required. Who will check if you have not signed off at the end of the day?
Larger or more sophisticated occupiers may operate Permit-to-Work Systems to regulate high risk activities including roof work. The precautions which you take should be no less than those specified on the permit issued to you.
5. Inclement Weather
Be aware of the weather forecast, and where appropriate re-arrange activities to suit. Consider wind, rain, frost, ice hazards, extreme heat. Take particular care in blustery conditions; a gentle breeze at ground level is usually a strong breeze on the roof of a tall building.
6. Ensure that you feel well in yourself
There is a good chance that you will be on the roof for three or four hours. Therefore eat, drink and use the cloakrooms before going up to carry out the inspection. Consider taking a bar of chocolate to keep you going on long inspections.

1. Assess the composition/condition of the roof soffit - is it safe to walk on?
Look for evidence of severely corroded decking or notable deflections indicating that the structure may be unsound. This inspection must be thorough in order that all potentially weak or fragile areas are identified before you go on the roof.
2. Don't fall!
In the attempt to get closer to the roof soffit to inspect an interesting feature, be aware of the height to which you have climbed - keep your head.
3. Do not leave the safe access route
Stick to the permanent walkways, or alternatively to the prepared and approved access scaffolding.
4. Wear a safety helmet
This is mandatory on operational construction sites. They must also be worn where there is a risk of falling materials or low head hazards such as scaffolding.

Check the condition and adequacy of the ladder/platform/hoist
  i) Is it properly footed?
ii) Is it at the correct angle?
iii) Is it restrained at the top?
iv) Does it project at least 1.05m above the landing platform?
2. Reduce the number of times you actually have to go up onto the roof to a minimum
Climbing up onto the roof and subsequently coming down is often the most dangerous part of the inspection. Therefore it makes sense to reduce the number of times to a minimum by planning ahead.
3. Keep both hands free when climbing a ladder
Use a back pack or satchel.
4. Lift heavy pieces of equipment up with a rope

Before moving off from the access point, identify the major hazards by sight and agree these with others present. Consider:
  i) Fragile areas.
ii) Edge protection.
iii) Slippery surfaces.
iv) Weather conditions.
v) Other contractors working.
2. Fragile Areas
Above fragile areas, ensure that suitable protection is in place before you walk on or pass near.
3. Always Step Forwards, Never Backwards.
4. Do not run. Walk at a steady pace.
5. There must be a minimum of two people on the roof at any one time.
6. Keep an eye on your partner, and warn him/her of impending dangers.
7. Edge Protection
Generally stay at least 2m away from an unprotected edge. When there is a need to inspect the roof edge wear a full body safety harness when there is a secure attachment point. If not take off any back pack , approach with caution, crouch down keeping your body weight away from the edge, then move away directly afterwards.
8. Opening Up
Before removing any elements of roofing and cladding, ensure that the structure will remain stable and secure.
9. When opening up a roof construction be aware that the opening is effectively an unprotected edge with potentially a long fall to the floor below.
10. Louvres
When inspecting the inside of louvres and other mechanical devices, ensure that there is no risk of them being accidentally switched on.
11. Every 15 minutes stop and remind one self of the major hazards
Have any factors changed and is it safe to continue?

1. Check that there are no loose materials left on the roof that may blow off and strike somebody below.
2. Check that the roof is left in a watertight condition.
This will ensure that others will not have to go back onto the roof unnecessarily.
3. Check that there are no other people left on the roof prior to removing temporary ladders/blocking off access doors.
4. Ensure that all means of access are secure to prevent unauthorised people going up onto the roof.

1. Sign off with permanent staff on site, and follow permit to work protocol was issued to you.
2. Report any dangerous hazards that are in need of urgent attention, and confirm these reports and agreed corrective actions by letter following return to the office.

These guidance notes were not written to be prescriptive, but rather are intended to promote safety awareness in everyday practice. I am sure that there is more good advice which other experienced roofing professionals may wish to share. Alternatively, not all of these rules may be appropriate, considering the wide variety of construction traditions and practices. What is important is that we regularly remind ourselves of the dangers we face while inspecting roofs, which are often in an unknown condition.

By taking a positive approach to the adoption of a safe system of work for short-term roof inspections, we can reduce the number of tragic accidents such as the untimely loss of a fellow roofing professional.

© Keith Roberts, 1996

First published in Roofing Consultants Institute 'Interface' (USA), January 1996
Reprinted in Roofing Cladding Insulation, March 1998

RCI Technical Notes

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