Watch your step on fragile roofing

19 January 2023

An incident that resulted in serious facial lacerations to a licensed asbestos removalist when he fell almost 5 metres has prompted a SafeWork SA warning.

The worker was removing asbestos “deep six” roof sheeting from a Ridleyton warehouse on 11 January when he fell 4.6 m through the roof sheeting, striking a forklift before hitting the concrete floor.

SafeWork SA is reminding businesses to ensure they must consider and implement reasonably practicable control measures to manage the risk of falls when working on or near fragile roofing.

The 11 January incident site.

An initial SafeWork SA investigation found:

  • a third party revised asbestos register (pre-demolition) identified the asbestos roof sheeting as damaged
  • an Elevating Work Platform (EWP), scissor lift was available on site
  • workers on site were standing on, and removing asbestos roof sheets while wearing harnesses
  • the injured worker was not attached to an anchor point when he fell
  • the workers were not competent in ensuring their anchor point selection and set-up had a minimum rating of 15kN
  • the pendulum effect ‘swing down’ was not taken into consideration when undertaking the asbestos roof sheet removal
  • adequate training and instruction in the correct use of the equipment was not provided, with the business relying on VET training in working at heights
  • multiple Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) were on site but were not set out and expressed in a way that was understandable to workers who use it
  • the SWMS for high-risk construction work was generic and did not identify site specific hazards, risks and suitable control measures to eliminate or minimise the risks
  • emergency and rescue procedures had not been established and tested
  • adequate supervision was not provided to ensure the lower level controls used to minimise a fall, were being followed.

The 11 January incident site.

Each year SafeWork SA responds to incidents where workers have been killed or seriously injured from falls from heights. Many of these incidents involve falling through penetrations, unprotected edges or fragile material.

Falls are the most common cause of injury in the construction industry, however anyone working at height is at risk.

The SafeWork SA 2021 Health and Safety Snapshot relating to falls from heights identified that workers performing work on a roof received the most serious injuries.

SafeWork SA acting executive director Glenn Farrell said the fragile nature of asbestos material is well known among licenced asbestos removalists.

‘In this incident, the company attempted to manage the risk of falls by allowing workers to use an inadequate fall arrest system alone which required workers to be highly trained and competent in its setup and use,’ he said.

‘When working on or near fragile material, there is a high risk of serious injury or death to workers if not adequately controlled.

‘Businesses need to undertake an adequate risk assessment and implement higher order control measures or a combination of control measures, such as temporary work platforms (crawling boards) or where possible, use an elevating work platform or boom lift to avoid standing on the roof itself.’