Farmers - make sure roof repairs are carried out safely

12th February 2014

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is reminding farmers and contractors of their legal duties for health and safety when carrying out work on farm buildings.

During 2013, falls through roofs of farm sheds led to the tragic deaths of two roofing contractors in separate accidents, sadly underlining the dangers of working at height. In addition, other accidents resulted in serious injuries to contractors brought onto farms to carry out roofing repairs and maintenance.

These accidents were due to falls from the edges of the roof, through gaps or holes in the roof and through fragile materials and roof lights.

All work on roofs is a high risk activity, not only during the construction of a new roof but also getting onto an existing roof for any length of time - including for a few minutes to ‘have a look’ or carry out a small repair. So, always consider whether it is really necessary to go onto the roof at all.

If you are a farmer and you use a building contractor for roof work then you (the ‘client’) have legal duties under health and safety law - Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (NI) 2007). You need to work with the contractor to make sure you get the job done safely.

The contractor also has legal duties under health and safety law which are separate to those of the ‘client’. These duties cannot be evaded or avoided nor passed to each other either through a verbal or written contract. They include:

  • allowing adequate time for every stage of the work
  • providing relevant information about the site, including existing structures and the intended use of any new workplace buildings
  • checking that adequate welfare facilities are in place during every stage of work and suitable management arrangements are on site before work begins
  • checking the competence and resources of the contractor to carry out the work

If the construction work will last more than 30 days or involves more than 500 person days, then there are additional requirements. If this is the case, contact HSENI on: 0800 0320 121.

The tragic accidents in 2013 have shown that even experienced roofing contractors sometimes carry out work at heights without taking the appropriate safety measures. So, ask the contractor how he is going to do the work safely - your questions may encourage them to think again about how to stay safe during the work you want done, and may even save a life.

Questions you could ask:

  • can you avoid going on the roof by carrying out the repairs safely from below by using a safe working platform - sometimes profiled roof sheets or roof lights can be replaced from underneath using adapted roof fixings?
  • what safety measures are you taking to prevent people falling off the edge of a roof, for example, guard rails?
  • what safety measures are you taking to prevent people falling through gaps and rooflights in the roof, for example covering over the roof lights, putting safety nets underneath the roof lights or using a harness system?
  • what equipment will you use, for example scaffolding, a working platform such as a scissor lift or cherry picker or a fully integrated cage on the telehandler.
  • how are you going to get onto the roof?
  • how are you getting to the work area – for example, will you have to cross another roof to get access to the work area –are precautionary measures needed to make the route safe?
  • do you know where the rooflights are?
  • what qualifications, skills and experience do you have in this type of work - do you have expertise in working on fragile roofs?
  • what arrangements will you have for managing the work, for example who will be responsible and how will the work be supervised?
  • what is your risk assessment for this work (must be written down if five or more people are employed) and do you have a safety method statement which sets out the steps you will follow to ensure that the roof work will be done safely?
  • what input is expected from you the farmer, for example do you need to remove livestock or is your telehandler needed to lift materials?
  • if asbestos materials are present, are workers appropriately trained?

Remember, all repairs should be carefully planned and a site visit by the contractor is necessary before any work begins.  No one wants an accident to happen on their farm so please Stop and Think SAFE about the work your contractor is going to do for you.

For more information on farming health and safety issues in Northern Ireland please contact the HSENI helpline on 0800 0320 121 or visit