Roofer’s fatal fall a reminder of dangers of working at height

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The death of a well-known Christchurch roofi ng contractor is a reminder that nothing is more important than safety when people are working at height. The roofer fell 5.2 metres onto concrete while doing what should have been a routine job — putting a roof on a new house. Scaffolding had been erected around the other sides of the house, but not at the front where the roofer was working the day he died. He fell while working on the only section of a roof that was not protected by guardrails. 

He had been warned previously about taking risks when working at height, and on the day of the accident appears to have ignored safety precautions. The Department of Labour’s investigation found that the roofer had gone against an agreed safety plan by working in the area without scaffolding. 

Under the plan, he was only supposed to work in protected areas. The roofer had been spoken to by the Department on at least three previous occasions after being spotted working at height without a harness or other fall protection. No one knows why the roofer went against the plan or why he fell. 

The accident happened on a hot February day in 2004. But whether the roofer was overcome by heat, slipped or just lost his balance, he had put himself in a situation where there was no room for error. When he fell there was absolutely nothing to stop him falling onto the concrete floor below. 

He was pronounced dead at the scene by ambulance staff. Falls from height are the single biggest cause of death and injury in construction. Although this was a small scale construction site, building a new home for a local man, the Department’s records show that residential building sites are, in fact, the most dangerous of all. 

From July 1, 1998 to June 30, 2005, the Department of Labour recorded 2950 notifi cations of serious harm resulting from falls from height. Also during that period, more than 6000 improvement notices had been given to employers in relation to situations where there was a risk of a fall. 

Slips and falls account for one in five building industry injuries reported to ACC. Of these, falling from ladders, scaffolds and roofs are the most common. “Sometimes people question why we have all these safety rules,” says Bruce McLaren, the health and safety inspector who investigated the accident. 

“Well, this is the reason why — because without them it can lead to someone being killed.”