A new roofing safety awareness campaign has been launched in Queensland, following the deaths of four insulation installers in 2009-10. Three Queenslanders were electrocuted, while a New South Wales man succumbed to heat exhaustion while working in a ceiling on a day when temperatures reached 40 degrees celsius.

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie announced the project on May 16, in partnership with the father of one of the workers who was killed during the former federal government’s home insulation scheme.

“The dangers of working in roof spaces need to be well known and clearly understood,” Mr Bleijie explained.

“We are committed to making Queensland work sites the safest in the country and the legacy of these men will be better safety and awareness about ceiling work.”

The campaign was created in response to the coroner’s report, released last year, which found that three of the workers had not been given adequate workplace safety training.

If training and supervision had been supplied, as is required by law, these deaths could potentially have been prevented. The Queensland coroner attributed the lack of education and preparedness to the government’s desire to roll out the insulation scheme as quickly as possible.

“Undoubtedly, a major contributor to the failure to put in place adequate safeguards was the speed with which the program was conceived, designed and implemented,” the coroner’s report stated.

Mr Bleijie responded to the coroner’s findings with a promise to undertake a public awareness campaign to educate tradies and homeowners about the risks of working in ceiling spaces. The release of the “Stay safer up there, switch off down here” drive is expected to reduce the rate of injuries, illness and deaths that occur in Queensland roofs.

“There are serious electrical safety risks in our ceilings and the best and simplest way people can make them safer is to turn off all of the main power at the switchboard before climbing up there,” Mr Bleijie explained.

However, working under a roof poses more risks than just electricity. Due the enclosed nature of ceiling spaces, any individual that enters a roof should be aware of all occupational health and safety hazards that may be present.

The hazards of working in a ceiling space

As a ceiling is an enclosed and confined area, according to Safe Work Australia, there are many potential risks to an individual’s health and safety. Understanding and identifying these hazards is an important step in mitigating the potential of an accident, injury, illness or even death.

Electrocution

Perhaps the most significant and common risk within ceiling spaces is the exposure to live wires and electricity. To avoid electrocution or electricity burns, it is vital that the total power supply to the area is switched off before entering the space.

Some equipment and circuits may run on separate switches to the main power, which means that for complete safety all switches and circuit breakers should be turned off. If in doubt, contacting a trained and registered electrician or other professional is recommended.

Even once all the switches have been turned off, it is possible that power may still be present in some cables and wires. Because of this, it is important to avoid touching or being near these lines whenever possible.

Falling through the ceiling

In most cases, the ceiling is unable to hold an individual’s weight for an extended period of time. It is commonly recommended that anyone working in a ceiling space uses the support beams or work platforms to move through the area.

Serious injury can occur if an individual were to fall through a ceiling, particularly if they landed on hard surfaces, such as concrete, tiles and wood, or landed awkwardly on a piece of furniture.

Avoiding a fall is the most effective way to avoid sustaining potential injuries. This can be achieved by installing raised work platforms across the space to mitigate the need to stand on the ceiling surface.

Exposure to asbestos

Insulation installed prior to 2003 may contain bonded or friable asbestos fibres. This potential exposure to asbestos is a significant risk to individual’s long-term health.

When insulation or other materials are disturbed within a confined space, the fibres can become airborne and densely fill the breathing space of a worker. When an individual inhales airborne asbestos fibres, they risk developing serious lung diseases, such as the fatal cancer mesothelioma.

Avoiding exposure to asbestos is a vitally important step to protecting the health and wellbeing of any individual working in a ceiling space. This can include wearing approved breathing masks and obtaining asbestos awareness training to ensure they can easily identify and avoid potential asbestos fibres.

Personal protective equipment, such as P2 graded masks and disposable coveralls, should always be worn when dealing with asbestos. This mitigates the risk of inhaling fibres, or spreading them to other items of clothing when attempting to launder the work outfit.

Body strain

Due to the confined nature of ceiling spaces, individuals often need to crouch or stoop to move around the area. This can lead to significant muscle strain and may result in long-term injuries and disability.

It is therefore important that workers in ceiling spaces take regular breaks, moving outside of the cramped area to stretch and relax their muscles. If any ongoing pain occurs, individuals should stop work immediately and visit their doctor.

Exposure to extreme temperatures

In Australia, temperatures can fluctuate widely, from extreme heat to freezing cold. When work is required in a ceiling space, individuals need to be aware of how the weather could impact on their health and safety.

Summer temperatures often reach dangerous levels, with the enclosed space of a ceiling climbing to an even higher temperature than the outside air.

As roofs typically contain poor ventilation, those working in ceiling spaces may succumb to heat exhaustion and a lack of breathable air due to extreme weather conditions. It is therefore crucial that those working in these areas monitor the temperature regularly, and vacate the space if feeling hot, dizzy and dehydrated.

Exposure to birds, insects or animals

Ceilings are popular hiding spaces for many birds, insects and animals. Individuals venturing into these areas need to be aware of the potential bites and stings they could receive.

Before working in a ceiling space, individuals should ensure any vermin or insect activity has been eliminated or minimised through extermination or other methods. If a bite or sting occurs, workers should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Additionally, exposure to deceased animals or birds, or their droppings, can pose a significant risk of various diseases and illnesses. Workers in ceiling spaces should ensure they wear the appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks.

Any exposure to an animal or their leavings should be followed by adequate personal hygiene solutions, such as disinfectant and full body showers. Furthermore, if any illness or pain is detected, individuals should visit their doctor or local hospital.

If you would like more information about the hazards present in roof and ceiling space, or would like to access training relevant to working in confined spaces, get in touch with the AlertForce team today.

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