Fragile surfaces

What you need to do

The law says that contractors and employers must manage the danger by avoiding work on or near fragile surfaces and controlling any remaining risk by use of stagings, guard-rails, and fall arrest systems.

Those at risk must be told what the necessary safety precautions are and people carrying out the work have to be trained and instructed in the precautions required.

What you need to know

Falls through fragile surfaces, particularly fibre-cement roofs, and roof lights, account for 22% of all fall from height fatal injuries in the construction industry.

Workers undertaking roof work and building maintenance can die or be permanently disabled when they fall through fragile surfaces.

Those carrying out small, short-term maintenance and cleaning jobs are over-represented in the injury statistics.

Everyone involved in this type of work, including clients, designers and contractors, should treat falls through fragile surfaces as a priority hazard.

Fragile surfaces

Fragile surfaces and materials will not safely support the weight of a person and any materials they may be carrying.

All roofs, once fixed, should be treated as fragile until a competent person has confirmed that they are non-fragile. In particular, the following are likely to be fragile:

  • Fibre-cement sheets – non-reinforced sheets irrespective of profile type;
  • Rooflights – particularly those in the roof plane that can be difficult to see in certain light conditions or when hidden by paint;
  • Liner panels – on built-up sheeted roofs;
  • Metal sheets – where corroded;
  • Glass – including wired glass;
  • Chipboard – or similar material where rotted; and
  • Others – including wood wool slabs, slates and tiles.


Effective precautions are required for all work on or near fragile surfaces, no matter how short the duration, whether the work concerns construction, maintenance, repair, cleaning or demolition.

Health and safety in roof work HSG33 [paras 170-202] is FREE to download and provides full details of the dangers presented by fragile surfaces and the precautions available. This guidance should be consulted by all involved in such work

The hierarchy of steps to be taken to deal with the danger is:

  • Avoidance: Plan and organise work to keep people away from fragile surfaces so far as possible, eg by working from below the surface on a mobile elevating work platform or other suitable platforms.
  • Control: Work on or near fragile surfaces requires a combination of stagings, guard-rails, fall restraint, fall arrest and safety nets slung beneath and close to the roof.
  • Communication: Warning notices must be fixed on the approach to any fragile surface. Those carrying out the work must be trained, competent and instructed in the use of the precautions required.
  • Co-operation: On business premises, contractors should work closely with the client and agree on arrangements for managing the work.

We offer made to measure quotes for businesses across a range of industries including

  • Plumbing & Heating & Air conditioning / ventilation
  • Property Developers / General Builders
  • Roofing Contractors
  • Ground Workers
  • Electricians / Electrical Contractors / Security & Fire Protection Installations
  • Finishing trades I.e. plasterers, painting and decorators, flooring contractors, gardening

If you need a quote for your business call amb insurance today on +44 (0) 1782 740044!