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Roof tragedy was due to a lapse of safety, not presence of a rooflight


Sir, Your article headed 'HSE wants rooflights ban to cut danger to workers' (News, December 16) overstates what the HSE actually said, which was that fragile rooflights should not be used.

The implication of the article was that the rooflight was the reason for the man's death.This could not be further from the truth.

When the CDM Regulations were introduced in the early 1990s, they required designers and builders to avoid using fragile components in the roofing assembly.The problem with the regulations was that they did not define the parameters by which an assembly could be deemed 'non-fragile'.

The rooflight industry was the first to prompt the Health and Safety Executive to define its requirements.

The Advisory Committee for Roofwork was subsequently created and all new roofing work must now be constructed to the standard defined by it: ACR (M) 001:2000 Test for Fragility of Roofing Assemblies.

In keeping with the requirement only to offer non-fragile roof assemblies to satisfy the test, the rooflight industry has made major changes to its product range since the early 1990s.

Examples are:

nPolycarbonate, a virtually unbreakable clear thermoplastic, is the benchmark material for non-fragile modular rooflights.

nGlass reinforced polyester has been increased in thickness from 1.83 kg/sq m to 2.44 kg/sq m and 3 kg/sq m.

nGRP lining panels have been similarly increased in weight to make the lining system alone non-fragile.

nGRP manufacturers now have systems available that offer non-fragility for 25 years.

Some GRP rooflights are stronger than the profiled metal roofs that surround them and will remain non-fragile for the expected life of the roof.

All members of the National Association of Rooflight Manufacturers test their products for non-fragility and provide detailed specifications to ensure only non-fragile assemblies are designed and used.

The reality of the fatal accident reported in the December 16 article was that the roof was being stripped off to be replaced, presumably because the whole roof had failed.We can assume that the roof was likely to be at least 30 years old and any roof of that age, whatever it is made of, will be fragile.The rooflights certainly will be, because 30 years ago they were sold as being fragile - so no surprises there.

If the roof was made of asbestos cement, that was also sold as a fragile roof and in such cases notices should be in place to warn that the surface is fragile. If the roof was metal it will have been heavily corroded and therefore also fragile.

The issue is actually not whether the roof or rooflight was fragile but why anyone was on the roof without safety equipment and work systems in place to stop him from falling.

The reasons why this worker died would appear to be: lack of planning, lack of risk assessment, lack of appropriate safety equipment and lack of training - and possibly a lack of appropriate supervision.The owner of the building also has a responsibility to ensure that anyone he contracts to repair the roof is suitably competent to carry out the work in a safe and proper manner.These are the issues for the HSE to address.

The HSE and the press need to get the message out to the industry that much future refurbishment, repair and inspection of roofs will be deemed to be on fragile roofs and that risk assessment and work plans should be implemented accordingly.

Vincent Cranmer, Chairman National Association of Rooflight Manufacturers Milton Keynes