How to safely access roof voids

In today’s property landscape, pre-purchase building inspections are very much the norm. Great news for timber pest and building inspectors – more business! – but challenging if the roof cavity (or, roof void) is inaccessible. This article discusses how to safely access a roof void.

Roof void inspection is a must

When conducting an inspection, it is crucial to check this area for issues such as damaged tiles, termites and other pests, inadequate downlight protector installation and lack of insulation.

The roof space is usually reachable through a manhole and comes in varied forms, such as:

  • Gyprock/fibro/timber covers
  • Doorways into side voids
  • Ceiling fold down ladders

Industry standards require you check the roof void in each and every inspection, unless you do not have reasonable access or a manhole does not exist.

Rapid Solutions has taken a few enquires recently concerning the lack of manholes and situations where the accessing of the manhole is unsafe or will cause damage.

Have you found yourself in this bind? Read on.

How to report on inaccessible manholes

If you have found the roof void inaccessible for some reason, it is very important to advise the customer in your written report that entry was not available. They will also appreciate you explaining why it is important that you safely access the roof void. Explain verbally as well, if possible.

You should also record in your report why this is the case and that inspection of the roof void is necessary as timber pest activity or evidence or building faults may be present. State that, due to the access restriction, no report will be made for the roof void.

Your report should recommend that safe access to the roof void must be provided before it can be inspected. You should also recommend that safe entry and inspection of the roof void should be carried out prior to a purchase decision.

This may involve a new manhole being fitted in an area from which safe and reasonable access can be made.

Where might that manhole be?

Even though you cannot find the manhole initially, it may still exist in the property.

Often they are placed out of sight or where they won’t be noticed. This includes inside cupboards and laundries, in bathrooms behind false panelling, and between cupboards where the fridge is placed.

Sometimes they are located too far out from a wall and/or are too narrow for the ladder to go through them. Frequently they are placed close to an outer wall where the pitch of the roof hampers access.

Sometimes furniture blocks them. In this case, the Australian Standard AS 4349.1-2007 section 3.2.1 excludes furnishings and the like. An inspector does not move furniture or appliances; the inspection must be limited to a visual inspection only.

It also states that ceiling access should be 400mm x 500mm, yet many access points do not measure to this size. The Standard also says crawl space of 600mm X 600mm should be available.

How to safely access and Inspect a roof void

Before you begin conducting roof void inspections, make sure your ladder is suitable for accessing standard-size manholes.

Upon conducting an inspection, you should:

  1. Ask the owner or occupier where the manhole is located and if there is more than one.
  2. Assess the manhole and its placement for risk, with the aim to be able to safely access the roof void via it.
  3. If your ladder won’t go through the opening, make sure the end you place against the wall is padded with mark proof padding.
  4. Ensure you are wearing your PPE, including mask or respirator, before opening a manhole. There is likely dust and may also be bird nesting or rodent droppings on the back side of the cover (in that case, there is the potential to refer or conduct pest management work).
  5. Check after lifting the cover that there is no termite, borer or other damage immediately around the manhole. That way you know the entry area will support your weight.
  6. Proceed with care and a keen eye. If possible, report as you go, to ensure you note and record all important findings.

Remember that if a person carrying out this type of work can (with reasonable safety) access through the manhole then you would be expected to do so even if the access opening is less than 400mm X 500mm.  

Also remember that if you are conducting this kind of business activity it comes with the potential for injury to you, your team member or the property owner or occupier. It could also result in damage to the property.

Consider the need to reduce your financial risk in this regard by taking out general liability and professional indemnity insurance.