Why You Shouldn’t Immediately Remove Internal Fall Protection

Published on 14th January 2020
Eddie Stanton Avonside Group CEO

Our CEO Eddie Stanton explores the safety aspects and importance of leaving internal fall protection in place for as long as necessary in new builds.

Over recent weeks our in-house team of Health & Safety professionals have been working closely with the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) and a number of national housebuilders on the crucial issue of internal fall-protection in the construction of new homes.

Once the timber roof construction, masonry work, and soffit/fascia are installed, the roof tiling or slating phase of the construction is relatively brief, usually over in a matter of days. New housing developments can be at times a busy, time-critical working environment. As soon as the roof covering is installed, internal trades can move in and progress their works in dry conditions. Consequently, the timing between the transition from external to internal works is often short and in some cases, the ‘lines’ between when it is safe to remove internal fall-protection may become blurred if roofing contractors don’t insist on it remaining in place until the main roof covering is fully installed.

Falls from height remain one of the biggest causes of accidents and fatalities in construction. It is imperative the hierarchy of fall-protection set-out in the Work at Height Regulations 2005 is followed at all times. The safety of people working on and around roofs is absolutely paramount and we leave no ‘stone unturned’ in the pursuit of this.

Innovations that Have Improved Health & Safety

Avonside CEO Eddie Stanton explains why internal fall protection must remain in place for as long as neededInnovations in home-building over the years have brought about many improvements, particularly in the area of health and safety and rightly so!

The rise in the specification of Factory Graded battens during the past decade and their subsequent adoption within BS5534: Code of Practice for Slating and Tiling (including Shingles) and NHBC Standards have helped to reduce the risk of tiling battens breaking under installer load during roof installation. Add to that a varied palette of tiles and slates in use, some of which are laid at relatively close batten gauge, which in those cases also helps to reduce the risk of falling through the roof during installation. However, they do not remove the risk!

Working around rooflights, felting and battening, loading out, slips and trips on the roof are just some of the residual risks, which simply cannot be overlooked. Risk assessments must allow for human error or misjudgement and adequately control those risks. Internal fall-protection therefore is and must remain a key, effective and reasonably practicable inclusion within a safe system of working on new roofs.

In Our Experience…

In contrast to the above, we recently experienced a small number of customers attempting to include the removal of internal fall-protection systems immediately after completion of felting and battening works i.e. before the tile or slate roof covering has been installed as part of their planning schedule within the terms of sub-contract orders.

In response to this, we have worked collaboratively with a number of customers to ensure the required correct internal fall-protection system remains in place for the duration of our works, thus avoiding unnecessary risk for our operatives, for our business and also very importantly, for our customers. These actions have been well received and we continue to work closely with customers like Barratt David Wilson Homes, Taylor Wimpey, Countryside Properties and numerous others on this highly important issue. These customers have been highly supportive, and we greatly appreciate that.

Parallel to our own position and actions over recent months, NFRC has been conducting its own research, cumulating in its recent issue of NFRC Guidance Note (GN06): Internal Fall-protection Requirements for Pitched Roofs on New Homes. The release of this guidance from a senior industry technical body demonstrates a clear and consistent position for the roofing and construction industries to follow.

For our part, we will continue to work with NFRC and all its customers in the pursuit of viable safe alternative systems and methods to the conventional means of providing adequate internal fall protection during the installation of roofs on new homes. However, unless or until suitable, fully-tested and industry-approved alternatives have been identified and implemented, we will continue to adopt the only responsible position available to us, which is to insist upon the inclusion of adequate internal fall protection measures by our customer until the roof covering is fully installed.

Eddie’s column originally appeared in the January 2020 (issue 86) of Roofing Today magazine (page 32).