Health and Safety in Roof Work

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Working on roofs is a high-risk activity because it involves working at height. Roofers make up nearly a quarter of all workers killed in falls from height at work. Falls through fragile materials, such as roof lights and asbestos cement roofing sheets, account for more of these deaths than any other single cause. Not all those who are killed while working on roofs are trained roofers: many people accessing roofs are maintenance workers. There are also many serious injuries, often resulting in permanent disabilities.

Roof work is not just an issue for construction companies. This guidance will be useful to anyone planning, arranging or supervising roof work, including:


  • Directors and partners of companies who carry out roof work
  • Clients of projects involving roof work
  • Designers and specifiers of buildings and components
  • CDM (Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (2007) coordinator’s
  • Principal contractors for projects that include roof work
  • Owners of buildings where roof work may take place
  • Trade union safety representatives and employees’ safety representatives
  • Anyone carrying out roof work, including employees and the self-employed
  • Safety consultants and advisers


Personal fall-protection systems are placed at the lower end of the work at height hierarchy. Avoidance, fall prevention (e.g. guard rails, MEWPs, scaffolds etc.), collective safeguards (e.g. air bags, bean bags etc.) and work-restraint systems should be considered first. The two most common types of personal fall-protection systems used in roof work are work restraint and fall arrest. For guidance on other types of personal fall protection (such as work positioning, rope access etc.), you should seek the advice of individuals or companies who are trained and experienced in the use of such techniques. Call now for advice


Work restraint Fall arrest
Prevents falls Minimises’ consequences of a fall
Provides personal protection – not collective Provides personal protection – not collective
Is an active system – not passive Is an active system – not passive


A fall-protection system relies on the user’s competence and discipline to make sure that the system is used consistently and effectively. Supervising people under your control is as important as training them.

Fall-protection systems are not foolproof and their safe use is not always common sense. Without proper training in fitting, use, maintenance, installation and equipment limitations, all that a fall-protection system can provide is a false sense of security.

Adequate information, instruction, training and supervision should be given when a fall-protection system is used, e.g.:

  • How to select the correct products for the work situation;
  • How to wear the harness and adjust it to the body;
  • How to use and adjust the lanyard and other equipment;
  • How to self-rescue or assist others after a fall;
  • How to inspect the equipment and recognise significant defects;
  • How to assemble the system correctly; and
  • How to recognise and attach safely to approved anchorage points.


Initial training should be carried out by the supplier of the fall-protection system or by in-house trainers who have been trained and assessed by the system supplier. Trainees should be assessed for competence by carrying out typical tasks.

Refresher training should be carried out at appropriate intervals (normally three- yearly) followed by assessment of competence by again carrying out typical tasks at height.

Trainees should not be exposed to additional risk while carrying out tasks during training. Before beginning training, the training organisation should carry out a thorough risk assessment and put in place any necessary control measures, such as a back-up or secondary safety rope.


Work-Restraint Systems

Work-restraint systems are sometimes referred to, inaccurately, as fall restraint. In a work-restraint system, the position of the anchor point(s), when combined with the user’s PPE, allows a worker to carry out their job but prevents them from reaching any position from which they could fall. This type of system increases user safety and reduces the need for rescue provision. Where practicable a work- restraint system should be used in preference to fall arrest.

A working area will often have more than one edge or other place from which a worker could fall. For example, a particular roof area may have edges along the eaves and along the gables; it may also contain fragile roof lights. Make sure that the work- restraint system prevents the user from reaching any location from which they could fall.


Fall-Arrest Systems

Fall-arrest systems should incorporate some form of energy absorber or an energy-dissipating element. This must make sure that, in the event of a fall, the forces on the user do not exceed 6 kN and will help reduce the transfer of forces to the structure to which the system is attached.

For a fall-arrest system to function correctly there must be adequate clearance beneath the work area, e.g.:


A system comprising a full body harness and a 2 m long lanyard with an energy absorber, anchored to a 20 m horizontal anchor line at foot level could require up to 7.75 m of clearance below the anchorage. This is made up as follows:
Original length of the lanyard plus shock absorber 2.0 m
Maximum allowable shock absorber extension 1.75 m
Deflection of the anchor line cable during the fall arrest 1.5 m
Allowance for displacement of the worker, stretch in the full body harness and the clearance below the user’s feet after the arrest 2.5 m
Total 7.75 m


If a fall-arrest system is in use then the employer should consider and plan for rescuing or retrieving a fallen worker. There should always be a rescue plan in place, with the necessary equipment and trained people to carry out a rescue in safety without putting more workers at risk. A fallen worker should be rescued as quickly as possible.

It is good practice to install fall-arrest system anchor points as high above the user as possible, as this reduces forces, risk of injury and, in the event of a fall, makes rescue easier. Anchors should not be installed below foot level.

If using retractable fall arresters (sometimes called ‘inertia reels’), they should be anchored vertically above the user so that the extendable line between the reels

The user runs largely vertically. If you wish to use a retractable fall arrester in any other orientation you should get confirmation from the manufacturer that it has been tested and found safe for use in the desired orientation.

Where there is a risk that a worker will fall from a leading edge and the lanyard or extendable line from a retractable fall arrester will come into direct contact with the edge of the structure during the fall arrest, it is important that only equipment tested for this particular circumstance is used. You must seek confirmation from the manufacturer that the device is fit for the purpose you wish to use it for. Failure to follow this advice could lead to the catastrophic failure of the fall-protection system.

Several national and European standards apply to fall-protection systems and the individual elements such as lanyards, harnesses, anchors etc. The two British Standards listed below give general advice and list the other relevant standards:

  • BS 7883:2005 Code of Practice for the design, selection, installation, use and maintenance of anchor devices conforming to BS EN 795; 31 and
  • BS 8437:2005 Code of practice for selection, use and maintenance of personal fall protection systems and equipment for use in the workplace.

The Work at Height Safety Association website contains guidance notes on the use of fall protection equipment:

Site survey, to design, build, installation, maintenance and training, we’ve got your compliant height safety solution covered. Talk to a member of our team to discuss your requirements on: 0333 234 1801.