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Working in ceiling spaces

Safety Alert
1 November 2011

In 2009-2010, three workers were electrocuted during installing of insulation in ceiling spaces and a fourth died of heat stress while in a ceiling space. In October 2011, a contractor engaged in home renovation work was electrocuted while working in the ceiling space. In 2015, a South Australian worker suffered critical heat illness while in a ceiling space.

Possible causes: Electrical

Electrical hazards include:

  • exposed live electrical conductor / wiring
  • electrical connections where the condition of wiring has deteriorated, often associated with older buildings
  • unused wiring left in the ceiling that could be still connected to the switchboard
  • past electrical work not performed by a competent person.

Possible causes: Heat

Heat hazards include:

  • high air temperatures, frequently exceeding 50°C in summer, contributed to by strong radiant heat on the roof
  • reduced ability for the body to cool due to poor ventilation and lack of air movement
  • lack of heat stress awareness.

Other hazards

Other hazards include:

  • bites or stings from insects including spiders and wasps
  • falling through the ceiling
  • falling off ladders while accessing the ceiling
  • exposure to bird and / or vermin droppings or remains
  • asbestos and dust exposure
  • working in awkward positions and postures – potential for muscular or skeletal strain / injury
  • working in poor light.

Action required

To avoid electrocution, you must:

  • switch off the electricity supply to the whole area before you touch, move or physically disturb any electrical wiring, cable or junction box connection
  • always seek the services of competent people, such as an electrician
  • only attempt electrical work or tasks where you have the required skills or qualifications.

To avoid heat-illness you must:

  • determine the safe entry time by assessing the temperature, through feeling for and/or measuring heat, before entering the space
  • ensure all workers are trained in heat-risk awareness and how to recognise heat stress symptoms in themselves and their workmates.

Other safety considerations:

  • before entry into the roof / ceiling space, ensure any danger from vermin or insect activity has been eliminated or minimised
  • always use crawl boards to walk across ceiling space
  • ensure your entry and exit points are easily accessible
  • ensure that ladders are stabilised and secure and there's no chance of slipping when being used
  • consider the use of appropriate personal protective equipment to minimise risks.