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FRAGILE ROOF SAFETY SOLUTIONS

What is needed to do to stop people falling through sheeted roofs?

 

We asked height safety expert, Barney Green of Higher Safety to consider this question. Here are his initial thought provoking ideas….

“In many ways our recent safety statistics have improved significantly. We are killing and injuring fewer people at work than ever before. We could even start to pat ourselves on the back and talk of having made progress.

Nowadays people don’t fall when sheeting new, large, industrial roofs, or when laying metal decking. They use safety nets. They are visible, planned into the works, and offer collective passive safety to all who work or stray above them. Use of the nets has been shown to increase productivity, and even some in the “price aware” agricultural sector have started to see the light. An affordable level of planar height safety … but not a panacea.

The fragility of a roof, and of roofing materials, has been the subject of much debate and effort for many years. Manufacturers of both sheeting materials and roof lights proudly claim “non fragile when new,” or reference fragility test evidence .. but all still accept that the vast majority of the roofing stock out there, requiring regular roof light replacement, other reactive maintenance, or the installation of new penetrations, is dangerous to walk on. They all recognise that the materials deteriorate over time and their fragility increases. The biggest concern is that the condition of the roof is not visibly obvious. Why then do so many people walk on these roofs ?

Is it ignorance ? I doubt it, as many will use expressions like “I walk the bolt heads” or the “purlin lines” .. so they clearly know that the roof material itself may not support them.

Is it the lack of a simple solution ? Some roofs can be netted internally beforehand, however this is never the simple process used when the building is new. Lights, fire sprinklers, heaters, suspended ceilings all manner of suspended services have been hung from the roof and frustrate the efforts of the netting contractor. Additionally the floor has been covered with fixed plant, storage racking, and partitions, to make the selection of suitable access equipment for the netting contractor a complex process. Refurbishment netting, as it is called, is frequently a frustrating and difficult job and this is reflected in the rates charged.

One partial solution is to restrict services from the area around the roof lights, and to locally net these using the purlins for support. This only works on relatively young roofs where the roof itself is not fragile and the concern is just the roof lights and their replacement. This solution was tested a few years ago by one netting contractor, and found to be effective, however it could not be used in every situation.

Another solution is to replace the roof lights from below. This attracts the same complex access frustrations from below but at least stops the need to walk on the roof.

Best practice would be to avoid the need to access the roof for its life, but that requires real thought and commitment at the design stage of the building. An interesting CDM thought for now, but not much help with our existing building stock. I fear that the “general” fitting of cable systems for maintenance might be sending the wrong message, and attracting access that could be avoided, but I do accept that roofs need to be maintained

Other reactive solutions involve restrictive frames, anchor points, crawling boards and overlays .. all have their place, and all are much better than nothing, but this problem does not yet have a simple, affordable, available solution. Until it does, I fear that we will continue to see a disproportionate number of workers taking risks in accessing these roofs and in continuing to fall through.

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