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ROOF VOIDS – A POTENTIAL DEATH TRAP

Just as with subfloors, roof voids present a highly hazardous environment for pest managers, so it’s essential to stay alert to hidden dangers. 

Entering roof voids is a high-risk activity for pest control technicians and every business should have documented health and safety guidelines and provide appropriate training to protect their employees.

There is a range of hazards associated with entering roof voids, such as:

  • Electrical hazards
  • Asbestos and insulation / particulate hazards
  • Confined space issues
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Trip hazards
  • Animal hazards (eg. snakes and wasps).

Although the government insulation scheme took place several years ago, there are still plenty of properties with poorly installed insulation and so revisiting electrical safety is always worthwhile.

Electricity is a significant hazard and the Queensland Government Office of Workplace Health and Safety have provided some useful general guidelines.

Before entering a roof void, turn off all electricity to the property at the main switchboard and take steps to prevent the electricity from being turned back on while work is in progress. Remember that not all systems may be on the same electrical circuit – all will need to be turned off in case the associated wiring is in the roof void.

Where solar photo voltaic (PV) systems are installed, supply cables from the solar cells on the roof to the inverter unit will be live when the solar cells are generating electricity, even if the main electricity has been turned off. For this reason, care must be taken when working around these cables.

Turning off electricity to the property at the main switchboard does not turn off the electricity supply from the street to the switchboard. This means the incoming overhead service lines and the cables supplying the switchboard will still be live.

Extreme care must be taken to avoid touching any of these live overhead electrical lines or supply cables. Exclusion zones exist for working near incoming service lines and need to be maintained at all times (generally three metres).

Care must also be taken when working on roofs or in ceiling spaces to minimise or avoid contact with exposed conductive parts such as guttering, roof sheeting (as pictured above) or metal battens as these could be live if there is a fault with the electrical wiring. A recent incident in Central Queensland provided one such example. A worker laying telephone cable was electrocuted when he stepped on a roof that had become live after rodents had chewed through cabling.

Cockroaches chewing through wiring, ants nesting in plugs and circuit boards and termite activity in walls can all create electrical issues and are responsible for a number of house fires each year.

A vital tool all pest technicians should have is a simple AC voltmeter. This can test for any electrically live areas – great for checking roof voids before entry or walls before drilling.

An AC voltmeter is an essential tool for pest technicians

In summary, roof voids are a danger zone for pest technicians and before entry, a risk assessment needs to be carried out. Turning off electrical power at the mains is mandatory. Before entering, check any areas of concern with a voltmeter.

But electricity is not the only hazard. When entering a hot roof void it can be tempting to skip the safety gear, but always ensure appropriate safety clothing is worn (including gloves and respirator), as particulate matter is also a significant concern.

Indeed, heat itself is a significant risk. In hot weather ensure water is taken into the roof void (or enter roof void in cooler part of the day). A second person should always be aware you are in the roof void and able to assist in case of emergency (this is typically the property owner), as the effects of heat exhaustion can kick in quite rapidly.

Remember safety is the number one priority. For more information on roof safety contact your state health and safety department.