Health and Safety: Roofing Director Falls off Roof in High Winds

In this blog, I will be summarising a recent HSE press release to see if any lessons can be gleamed from the accident.

Background

Three firms have been fined after the director of one of the companies received serious injuries after falling 11 metres when a gust of wind blew him off a roof. This incident took place on the 23rd of February 2017 where a storm was moving across the UK bringing gusts of wind up to 94 mph.

The three firms involved was the principal contractor, the main roofing contractor and the sub-contracted roofing contractor. On this job, substantive amounts of the roofing work had been sub-contracted out.

Because of the winds, there were numerous warnings on-site and many activities had been suspended. The roof works, however,  continued until the early afternoon when a gust of wind blew the subcontracted Roofing company director off the roof. The individual sustained severe injuries to his pelvis, vertebrae and tibia, from which he continues to suffer.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found all three contractors had failed to ensure that a suitable and sufficient system to assess the effects of high wind when working at height was being followed. The companies had taken an informal approach to assessing weather conditions which were not in line with industry standards.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court fined two of the firms under Regulation 4(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The principal contractor was fined £350,000 and the main roofing contractor was fined £29,300. All three firms were ordered to pay just over £6k in costs.

Regulation 4(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 states:

Every employer shall ensure that work at height is carried out only when the weather conditions do not jeopardise the health or safety of persons involved in the work.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Gabriella Dimitrov said: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to the workers in the safe system of working. If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the life-changing injuries sustained could have been prevented.”

Watch the Weather

The contractors should have anticipated the adverse weather and taken suitable precautions to mitigate the risk. As in this case, a sudden gust of wind can easily lead to a loss of balance. This becomes even more apparent when carrying sheet materials like insulation boards as this can throw you off balance.

The part that surprised me the most, in this case, was that it was the director of the sub-contracted roofing company that fell off the roof. Most roofers that have been in the game a long time become accustomed to knowing their limitations and knowing when a roof is no longer safe to work on either through the high wind, rain or snow.

According to the 2008 HSE Book entitled Health and safety in roof work (using NFRC guidance) the maximum tolerable wind speeds for working on roofs are as follows:

max wind speeds

A competent contractor should check wind speeds if large sheets are being handled. When deciding whether to suspend work the contractor should consider the following:

  • Wind speed
  • The measures that have been taken to prevent falls
  • Position and height of the roof
  • Size and type of materials being handled

Conclusion

Clients should always analyse the competence of sub-contractors being used and not rely solely on the competence of the main contractor.

High winds can become very dangerous for a variety of roofing works. A roof should always be inspected before work starts and the weather should be considered to ensure it is safe to proceed.

Regardless of how long you have been on the job from apprentice to director, the risk from a strong gust of wind is just as dangerous. Courts will not shy away from levying heavy fines on contractors who do not take adequate measures to prevent accidents whilst working at height from adverse weather conditions.

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