How to identify non-compliant and broken roof anchor points

Worker beding over a roof anchor point to check whether it is safe to connect to.

Roof anchor points can be damaged or rendered non-compliant from a range of causes. Here is how to identify a damaged or non-compliant anchor point.

Height safety and fall protection systems are installed in high-risk environments to protect workers against the dangers of a fall. They can take on different shapes and be compromised of many different components, including anchor points.

These systems are also required to be inspected on a regular basis to ensure they remain complaint with all the relevant Australian standards and are assisting building owners and operators in upholding their duty of care to provide safe places of work.

One of the most common types of fall protection system component in use is the roof anchor. Roof anchors come in many different shapes and sizes. There are also different anchors made for different purposes and different roof materials.

The prevalence of roof anchors, and the inherent nature of their design means that these can often be damaged or otherwise rendered non-compliant in the time between inspections.

It is important that workers know what to look for when using roof anchor systems so they can identify any potential issues that can be present so as not to put themselves at risk.

Damage to anchor points

Roof anchors can end up damaged due to many different factors. Roof anchors that are damaged must not be used, as they may no longer be able to withstand the loads they were designed for. In the event of a fall, an anchor may fail completely, and a worker may find themselves not having their fall arrested properly. This increases the risk of that worker suffering a serious injury – or worse.

One common cause of damage to roof anchors is simply being trodden on by workers or having materials placed on them. Some roof anchor points are very low profile and, if a worker is not paying close attention, can go unnoticed as a worker is moving around a roof. Placing heavy material on an anchor can bend and distort the anchor’s attachment point, or the anchor body itself.

Distorted and bent anchor points may not maintain their original strength. In the event of a fall, this weakening can lead to the anchor failing to perform as designed.

Anchor points that been deployed and used in arresting a fall from height are also considered out of service and cannot be used.

Workers should check that any anchor point they are connecting to is in good condition and free from damage.

Damage to structures

Just like anchor points, the structures they are attached to can also be damaged in a variety of different ways and this can also affect an anchor’s ability to function correctly.

Damage occurring from storms and other intense weather events can weaken roof material. With surface mounted anchors, having solid roof material to attach to is an important part of how the anchor functions. Weakened roof material may give and come apart from the structure, placing a worker at risk of a fall not being arrested.

Building extensions, installation of plant and other building work can also result in damage occurring to the roof and surrounding structure. This damage can be immediate or become more severe over time. Joins and changes in material that are not sealed correctly can allow water to ingress roof trusses and other areas. Over time, this can degrade and rot structural elements of a building. These, too, can mean that a fall protection system may not be able to function adequately should a worker suffer a fall from height while connected.

Along with checking anchor points for damage, workers should also be checking the roof materials and surfaces. Roof anchors need to have a solid fixing to the structure to function correctly.

Documenting non-compliant anchor points

There are different ways that out of service roof anchors and roof areas that cannot be accessed safely are documented.

System plans can be drawn to show areas where compliant anchors are located, along with where the non-compliant anchors are and other potential unsafe areas that workers should avoid accessing.

A site induction can also be completed by the building owner or operator, providing any worker with instructions about how the installed safety system is to be used, along with any restrictions or inaccessible areas they need to be made aware of.

Marking non-compliant anchor points

Anchors can be physically marked as non-compliant in different ways. Some can ensure that an anchor cannot be used.

One common way our technicians mark an anchor as out of service is the use of a bright red “FAILED” tag. These plastic tags are attached to the anchor point and clearly identify that the anchor has failed its most recent compliance inspection and should not be used.

Red plastic tags that read FAILED DO NOT USE. They are for attaching to non-compliant anchor points.

At times, there is a need to make sure that an anchor point cannot be used at all. In these cases, it is typical to cut the connection point off the anchor. Doing this makes it impossible for a worker to connect to the anchor point, and therefore making it plain that no access should be made into that area.

This can also be accompanied by signage informing workers that no safe access is available, or some form of barricade to isolate the unsafe section from the rest of the work area.

Why not remove non-compliant anchor points?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but in many cases roof anchors that are damaged or otherwise non-compliant will not be removed from the roof.

The straight-forward reason for this, is that mounting anchors on the surface of a roof requires penetrating – putting holes – in the roof sheets for attachment. While the anchor is in place, these holes are sealed by the anchor.

Removing the anchor will expose those penetrations (which are usually around seven or more holes per anchor) which means they will need to be sealed again. If the sealing fails, then water and other contaminants enter the roof space and cause trusses to rot and other materials to corrode. Over time, this can significantly reduce the structural integrity of the roof.

Partners in protecting people

Height Safety Engineers has over 20 years of history in the fall protection and height safety industry. Our team have the experience and know-how to solve your height safety issues, no matter your building, environment or need.

Get in touch with us by calling 1300 884 978 or email enquiries@heightsafety.net.

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