Making the roof space safe for workers

8 07 2021

Every time I see a tradesperson hoist themselves from the top of their ladder through the access hole into our home’s roof space, I’ve cringed. It all looks so awkward—and dangerous! And it’s certainly something I’d never do (and doubt I could do these days as my upper body strength isn’t good).

Because I’ve worked in industries (e.g. mining; oil and gas; OHS software) where health and safety are HUGE issues, I’ve been concerned about this safety issue for some time. In Australia, very few houses have attics, so the roof space is a dusty open area of struts and rafters, with insulation between the rafters, plumbing pipework, electrical cables, air conditioning ductwork etc. When someone hoists themselves into the roof space, they don’t know what they’ll be faced with. They don’t know the layout and how they will support themselves and their tools. They typically wear a head lamp or carry a torch as there are no lights up there (and under a state law, the power to the house must be turned off if a anyone needs to access the roof space, so lights would be useless). Getting themselves and their tools up there usually entails a couple of trips up and down the ladder and through the small access hole.

Getting down is just as bad. They have to position and balance themselves on the access hole’s framework, dangle their legs until they reach the ladder, then climb down. Again, multiple trips if tools are involved.

I discussed this with my handyman (who is 194 cm [6′ 4″]), and he said all tradies are used to this and he didn’t really see the need. We talked about a commercial attic ladder from the garage into the roof space, but there were a few logistical issues with that. My next idea was some sort of platform, and preferably a railing, so that workers had somewhere to gather themselves and their belongings, without having to balance themselves on narrow rafters and framework. He was a bit skeptical about how useful it would be, but hey, I’m the client, and he’d figure out something.

And boy, did he figure something out! He created a platform, but first he had to add supporting framework above the nearby linen cupboard space as it didn’t have any, then build the platform, and then he chamfered the supporting vertical strut so that workers would have something to hold onto as they pulled themselves up into the roof space. His skepticism disappeared and this is what he wrote in an email with the pictures he sent: ‘I know it doesn’t look much but it actually has made a huge difference in getting in and out of the roof. I can stand 90% upright where the hammer is—originally that section was a void over the linen cupboard with no framing to stand on. I chamfered the Karri upright which gives a nice hand hold in addition to the other edge of the access hole.”

I think he’s a convert! And I’ll feel more comfortable any time someone has to go into our roof space.