Fall Though a Roof – A Family Crisis

As parents and relatives, we help our siblings earn a few dollars and give them some part-time work (Example – Siblings doing tertiary studies).

This is especially easy for small building services contractors, who in many cases may not have basic safety management checks in place and do work using “Common Sense”.

This is such a story where a son, who was employed on a part time basis doing office work in his father’s business, was assigned on a “Once off” basis to assist in carrying out roof repairs on single story building.

He fell though the roof to the floor below as a result of inadequate control of workplace by the Contractor Owner/Manager (his father) and the inadequate “Duty of Care” oversight displayed by the client who issued a contract of work to the contractor.


  • Roof water leak reported, and work order issued to pre-selected contractor.
  • The existing roof contained some “Fragile” fibreglass sheets which were not rated to support the weight of a person.
  • A “Fragile Roof Register” or fragile roof “Signs” were not in place for these roof sheets to alert employees of the fall hazard.
  • Contractor work team (two employees) arrived on site to commence the repair work. One employee was the son of the contractor.
  • The son worked under the direction of the other experienced employee.
  • The son had not worked on roofs previously but worked in the owner’s office.
  • None of these employees had done a client induction.
  • The Contractor’s Owner had given a clear instruction to the experienced employee not to go onto the roof until permission/instruction had been given by the owner.
  • The experienced employee did not have any qualifications or training in conducting roof repairs.
  • Both employees had not been trained in using Fall Arrest Personal Protective Equipment or “Working at Heights”
  • When on the roof, the son wore a “Fall Arrest Harness” using an adjustable rope lanyard connected to a rated anchor point.
  • The free fall distance to the level below was around 2.5 metres.
  • The rope lanyard was used in a Fall Arrest mode rather than Fall restraint mode and was not adjusted to keep the lanyard tight when moving around the roof.
  • A formal risk assessment was not done – such as a Job Safety Analysis or Safe Work Method Statement
  • A replacement “Fragile” translucent roof sheet was installed.
  • The son stepped onto the replacement fragile sheet which immediately failed, and he fell to the solid concrete surface below. The fall arrest PPE shock absorber could not deploy and was totally ineffective.

The following points are made:

  1. The son was not prevented from going onto the roof by the experienced employee . Employment of young inexperienced people is problematic when they are not provided with strong instruction and guidance by the more experienced employee, especially in relation to stopping work and preventing the inexperienced employee doing something that may be unsafe because they appear that they “Know Best”.
  2. Experienced employees have a heavy “Duty of Care” when it comes to managing and guiding young and inexperienced employees. Buddying up a young and inexperienced employee with the right person is essential to maintain control, discipline and gain their respect.
  3. Working on roofs had been identified by the client as a frequent high-risk activity with several of the client staff receiving accredited “Work at Heights” training. It was apparent that some  personnel did not understand how to apply the training to “Working on Roof” situations.
  4. Client staff, who had responsibility for assigning and supervising contractor tasks, were overwhelmed by administrative paperwork and spent little to no time in the field checking on contractor site safety management.  The client was blind to what was occurring at contractor worksites and was unable to detect and take pre-emptive action on safety issues.
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