LANDOWNERS in Herefordshire are being warned of the dangers of fragile roofs after a farm worker died falling through a skylight.

Austin Watkins, aged 42, was thought to have been surveying the roof of a barn he was due to paint when he accidentally fell and landed on a concrete floor. He later died of his injuries at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

Paul Humphries, of the Midlands Health and Safety Executive, told the inquest into Mr Watkins' death that the case "serves as a tragic reminder of the dangers of working at height" and that where possible, an assessment of the roof should be made before stepping on to it.

"Ideally you should look at the roof from a mobile lifting system to identify possible problems," he said at last week's hearing.

"Old buildings such as barns and sheds are inherently dangerous and you should take precautions."

Mr Watkins was a farm worker from Longtown who, at the time of his death last July, was working for J R Badham and Son at Lower Venn Farm in Sutton St Nicholas.

The farm's owner, Percy Badham, confirmed that Mr Watkins had been employed on the farm to do a range of jobs such as fencing and lambing, as he had done in the past.

He said Mr Watkins was very familiar with the farm and that he "always worked in a safe, reliable manner".

Mr Badham said that on the day of his death, he and Mr Watkins had planned to paint the roof of one of the barns on the farm.

They had planned to do the job in the afternoon and continued with separate jobs in the morning but when Mr Badham went to take a cup of coffee to Mr Watkins he found him on the floor in the barn, having fallen through the roof.

Mr Watkins' sister Angela Bevan told the coroner her brother was very well respected in the local farming community and that he was always safety conscious.

"Austin had the greatest of respect for Mr Badham who had always treated him well," she added.

Herefordshire coroner David Halpern recorded a verdict of accidental death saying it was "a very tragic accident".

He said it was unclear why Mr Watkins went on the roof although one could assume it was to see the extent of the work he was to undertake later that day.

Mr Halpern said he may have lost his balance and fell through the skylight or accidentally stepped back onto it.

"If this incident raises awareness of the possible dangers of roofs, then we can thank Austin for saving lives in the future," the coroner added.