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Put Safety First

Published: 01st Jul 2009


Personal and collective roof edge protection

The HSE Shattered Lives campaign urges companies to make rooftop safety a priority. With falls from height still the most common cause of workplace injury and fatality, it’s important for health and safety professionals to make the right choice in safety systems.

In a bid to reduce the number of tragic deaths and terrible injuries incurred from falling at height, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has recently embarked on phase two of its ‘Shattered Lives’ campaign.

Preliminary figures from the HSE reveal that workplace accidents involving a fall from height resulted in 58 people dying in 2007/08, in the UK alone. The second phase of the campaign, launched in February 2009, aims to highlight the risks associated with slips, trips, and falls and help those involved to take simple action to prevent these unnecessary workplace accidents.

According to the latest statistics from the HSE, the construction industry accounted for 59% of all deaths and 33% of all major injuries to workers as a result of falling from height last year. On top of that, more than 1,000 workers a month suffer serious injury following a slip, trip or fall at work and over 4,000 major injuries such as broken bones or fractured skulls are reported to the HSE each year by the construction industry. The campaign is designed to raise awareness of the dangers of working from height and how it can be carried out safely. In many cases, relatively simple steps can be taken to help avoid many of these falls, which yet can have devastating consequences for those involved.

Better education is certainly the way forward in sharpening minds and attitudes to safety on site.

To this end, we strongly urge anyone who has not yet paid a visit to the HSE Shattered Lives campaign website to do so, and make the most of the extensive range of materials and resources available.

It’s quite plain to see that the HSE campaign is having an effect. On many construction sites we visit you can see health and safety legislation tightening its grip and contractors taking their responsibilities very seriously. That said, when safety is the issue there is always room for improvement.

For example, we still see many commercial and public buildings where fall protection systems are not in place.

One leading construction firm knows exactly how serious the implications of ignoring these risks can be. This main contractor was fined £80,000 for pleading guilty to breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 when a worker suffered serious injuries following a fall through an unmarked roof-opening of a gatehouse which was under construction. The site sub-contractor also pleaded guilty to breaching the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, failing to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for employees working on roofs and was subsequently fined £25,000. Both firms were ordered to pay £10,000 each in costs.

This type of action is a wakeup call for anyone involved in rooftop work. If working at height is unavoidable, safety representatives should urge employers to have procedures in place to prevent such falls.

Those who contract others to access and maintain rooftop equipment are legally responsible for ensuring proper safety precautions are in place under the Work at Height Regulations 2005, as amended by the Work at Height (Amendment) Regulations 2007. These Regulations replaced all the earlier regulations about working at height. They consolidated previous legislation on working at height and implement European Council Directive 2001/45/EC concerning minimum safety and health requirements for the use of equipment for work at height (the Temporary Work at Height Directive).

One of the key HSE recommendations is to select and use the right rooftop safety equipment. The most common protection systems available on the market can be broken down into two groups: collective and personal. Collective roof edge protection systems protect more than one person and once properly installed or erected, do not require any action to make them work. These typically include permanent fixed solutions or free-standing systems. Personal protection systems protect only the user and require action by the individual. According to the HSE, collective equipment should be selected before other measures which may only mitigate the distance and consequences of a fall (such as nets or airbags) or which may only offer personal protection from a fall.

Duty holders must follow a simple hierarchy for managing and selecting equipment for work at height. First they must avoid work at height where they can; where they cannot avoid work at height, they must use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls; and where they cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, they must use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur. As a result, safety professionals and the contractors they employ must now carry out risk assessments, a method statement and consider whether an alternative form of access would be safer.

Collective safety systems

To minimise the risk of danger the HSE recommends choosing safety guardrailing afforded by collective roof edge protection systems. The latest modular roof edge protection systems on the market can offer quick and easy assembly as standard, featuring three principal pre-fabricated components for fast installation. Fully modular and versatile enough to adapt to most roof edge profiles and level changes, sections can easily be taken down and re-erected as necessary. Because the system is free-standing, there is no risk of roof membrane penetration during installation. Typically, this type of system also allows for integral kickboard fixing to save even greater time and cost on site.

Features on some of the systems available today include counterbalance assemblies which are ergonomically designed to provide a more attractive system appearance. Adjustable uprights are also available which allow for up to 11° raking movement of the guardrails. This raking capability ensures a more discreet system appearance from ground level, which can be an important asset, especially on landmark or prestigious building applications.

PVC base weights are also available on some systems, which bring a number of advantages particularly in making installation quicker and easier, thus saving time and money. Made from 100% recycled material, they provide an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional weights.

Having collective roof edge protection in place is one thing, making sure that it is correctly designed, installed, and therefore, effective is quite another. HSE inspectors are likely to question if the system actually complies with safety requirements as defined by a raft of legislation. These include HSG-33 Health & Safety in Roof Work, HSG INDG 284 "Working on Roofs", BS 6399: Part 2 1995 Wind Code as well as EN ISO 14122 Part 3 and EN 13374 Class A. Under this legislation the system in use will have to meet specific criteria. For example, EN ISO 14122 Part 3 requires that a test load of 300 N/m be applied to the system without it deforming by more than 30mm. And once the load has been removed, the system shall not show signs of any perceivable permanent deformation.

For contractors working near to high-risk areas, such as skylights, there are also good, easy to assemble, collective solutions. If a responsible contractor or building owner wishes to follow the guidelines closely to ensure the safety of his workers then it is important that he considers installing a suitable roof edge protection system around any permanent roof gaps or sky/dome lights. As the HSE guidelines state, safety nets or airbags should be viewed as a last resort, not a primary method of protecting roof workers. It is clearly the best option to try and prevent the fall in the first place.

The key criteria in selecting a protection system for such applications are performance and ease of use. A free-standing system offers the greatest benefit in terms of ease of assembly, removal and movement to other positions on a roof. Unlike a fixed system, this approach will also ensure that there is no risk of water leakage through, or damage to, the roof membrane.

If a free-standing system is selected then once constructed, it should provide a maximum permissible horizontal load of up to 300 N/m. It should also comply fully with the relevant rooftop safety legislation and EN 14122 pt3. Checks should also be carried out to assess the suitability of the system for the particular roof, and its pitch.

A free-standing system offers the greatest benefit in terms of ease of assembly, removal and movement to other positions on a roof.

With a suitable roof edge protection system in place around roof gaps or sky/dome lights, employers can protect workers from injury and themselves from expensive litigation and fines. Because of the choice of modern, cost effective and easy to install roof edge protection equipment now on the market, it is simpler than ever to meet all of these demands.

Personal protection equipment

In an ideal world, every flat roofed building should have some form of roof edge protection system in place. It remains a fact, however, that in some circumstances this is not the case. There may be times when access to the roof is only infrequently required, and the resulting cost can be seen as prohibitive for a full edge protection installation. Another factor to consider is the safety workers who install roof edge protection systems, as they themselves, remain unprotected whilst the structure is being installed.

In this instance, mobile man anchor systems are commonly used to make working at height much safer. New advances in this area are likely to make these products significantly quicker and easier to handle too.

For many products on the market, the term ‘mobile’ can be a little misleading. Yes, these systems are, in theory, designed to be portable, a great time saver for workers, as they can be moved to different areas of the roof as needs require. But the word that is missing from these descriptions is ‘easily’.

Very often, there are just two men assembling the system and it’s down to them to take the necessary components up on to the roof, lift and re-position them as necessary, and take back down again. It can be heavy and time-consuming work.

Roof anchor devices are tested, conforming to EN 795, BS 7883 & ISO 14567 and CE approved to the requirements of the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) Directive, and are suitable where no permanent guardrails or other anchor devices are in place.

The Regulations also feature schedules identifying the detailed requirements for equipment and temporary structures used, including personal fall protection equipment such as work restraints, work positioning, fall arrest and rope access. In fact, the HSE has issued a recent warning to companies whose business involves working at height to ensure they provide suitable safety equipment and have appropriate procedures in place before allowing their staff to work in potentially dangerous situations.

Working on pitched roofs can prove a dangerous business for contractors. By ensuring permanent anchor points, contractors accessing the roof can be assured of greater safety, as well as protection from the risk of prosecution in the event of an accident.

Class A2 fall arrest anchor solutions are proven to help contractors work safely on pitched roofs, providing fixed anchor points which offer a secure, safe and cost-effective alternative to using scaffolding. Whilst the safety of the equipment in use is an obvious priority, safety professionals should also look at the versatility and ease of use as key factors in selecting the right type of product for the job.

For example, the best slope mounted fall arrest anchors available are those which are suitable for installation on most types of roof support and can be easily adjusted to limit the number of components. Typically, these combine a fall arrest anchor, ladder hook and crawling board clamp in the one product, allowing contractors to attach industrial safety lanyards, belts and harnesses and to secure roof ladders, crawling boards, work platforms, etc. Anchor systems are also on the market which are suitable for use with a horizontal, flexible safety line. These are specially designed to be mounted on the slope of the roof, enabling the anchor to be fixed next to the access point.

Another type of fall arrest anchor solution worthy of consideration is one purpose-designed for installation on the ridge of a pitched roof. This approach ensures the safest anchorage point above the position of the contractor whilst providing access to both sides of the roof from the one anchor point. They are adjustable to fit a wide range of roof trusses and can be supplied in different sizes, giving maximum installation versatility.

Those in control of rooftop work have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure the safest possible working regime. There are bound to be more actions this time around, so make sure you’re taking the right steps to comply. It’s worth sounding a word of warning at this point. It’s clear that some suppliers on the market are keen to sell their particular product as the right solution whatever the application and so cash in on the publicity generated by the HSE campaign. That’s why it’s important to work with suppliers, who are capable of evaluating what’s required for a particular project or type of work, know the regulations inside and out and are then able to offer a range of products and solutions to meet your requirements.

The HSE began its latest inspection initiative in March, targeting 1,500 refurbishment sites across the UK to encourage the prevention of falls and good site order. In just the last two years, during similar inspection initiatives, the HSE’s construction inspectors carried out more than 2,400 refurbishment site inspections nationally, resulting in enforcement action being taken on around one in three of the sites visited.

To quote inspectors, 'as stated before our last inspection initiative, while workers in the refurbishment sector continue to be injured and killed, HSE will continue to target those contractors who flout health and safety law and come down hard on them where necessary'.

Published: 01st Jul 2009 in Health and Safety International

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