Health and Safety – Working at Height on Roofs

Non-compliance could have a devastating effect on your company, especially the financial impact of hefty fines relating to areas not covered by insurance.

The onus is on employers and managers to assess the risks involved in working at height. Failure to comply could result in accidents and even fatalities, so it’s essential that everyone knows the risks involved. While working on a roof, each stage of the process requires a thorough risk assessment to ensure every potential danger can be identified in advance.

Safety measures for working at height on roofs

According to the Work at Height Regulations 2005, workers should aim to do as much of their work as possible from the ground. But as you and your clients already know, when a roofing system needs attention, that’s simply not an option. Where workers have to physically work on a roof, managers have a duty of care to provide appropriate equipment and measures to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

Anyone working at height must be provided with a safe route to and from the roof, with extra precautions when working close to fragile surfaces. Equipment must be inspected before use to ensure that it’s fit for purpose, with scheduled maintenance checks to keep it in good working order at all times. Workers may also need to be reminded of the need not to overload themselves, or to overreach, as this could compromise their safety.

Your clients may need reminding that it’s essential to consider the risks of falling objects, which will require additional protection for those who might be affected. And it’s important to consider they have rescue procedures in place for emergency evacuations too, so that every eventuality is covered.

The risks involved in working at height on roofs

It’s estimated that up to one in five deaths in construction result from roof work. Working at height on a roof isn’t something that can ever be taken lightly; it’s a high-risk activity. So, it’s not surprising that the Health & Safety Executive has published detailed safety guidance. Not all roof-related accidents and fatalities involve specialist roofers; general repairs and cleaning work are also cited as being particularly dangerous activities.

Falling from a roof edge is obviously the primary concern, but there are other hazards to watch out for too. Fragile roof structures could give way, with openings and rooflights presenting additional dangers. Unsuitable or inadequate equipment, and poorly trained or supervised operatives are also implicated in accidents when working at height. It’s important to address any potential risks before scheduled roofing work is sanctioned.

Providing safe access to a roof

Careful and effective planning is required before allowing anyone to work at height on a roof and this starts with providing safe access. Your client or contractor may need to check how safely this can be achieved, through one or more of the following methods:

  • Ladders and stair towers
  • Roof openings and roof access hatches
  • Scaffolding; mobile or fixed scaffolding towers
  • Mobile access equipment, such as a cherry picker

A sloping roof needs to be surrounded by scaffolding to protect both people working at height and those below on the ground. It’s a sensible precaution to fit some edge protection too as an extra layer of safety. Ladders may be used for tasks that are of short duration, but they must be properly secured and fit for purpose.

Workers on flat roofs can be protected by installing edge protection, as well as double guardrails and toe boards around the edge as an extra precaution.

Working at height on fragile roof surfaces

The advice from the Health & Safety Executive is to treat all roofs as fragile in the first instance. It should be determined whether the roof is capable of supporting the weight of workers. In particular, the guidance suggests that sheeted roofs of any type should be considered incapable of bearing a person’s weight, including roof ridges and purlins.

It is wise to remind your clients they have an obligation to provide additional protection around rooflights, which are often obscured by paint and can be difficult to spot. This protection takes the form of covers or barriers, which must be well secured and clearly labelled with warning messages.

Using a platform underneath the roof is an effective method for ensuring that workers remain safe at height. Your clients may wish to use guard rails, stagings, safety nets, fall restraints and fall arrests in combinations suitable for the specific situation.

When inspecting a roof, you may discover different forms of damage. If you need advice when it comes to choosing a suitable roof coating product, please speak to the Giromax team or call 01455 558969 today.

Our Giromax® products offer innovative, market-leading solutions for commercial roofing systems and we are cut edge corrosion specialists.

The Swedish Standard Classifications for Preparation

The Swedish Standards provide clear guidelines for making processes safer and more efficient. At the same time, they encourage the conserving of resources to reduce environmental impact. The Standards for the preparation of steel surfaces prior to painting and coating have been widely adopted for many years. It’s worth noting that the lifespan of an anti-corrosive coating over steel relies heavily on the thoroughness of how the surface is prepared before application. You may need to explain the benefits of preparation to clients.

Rust grades

The approved Standard classifications for preparation outline four specific grades of rusting, together with a number of preparation grades. For the purposes of the Standard, surfaces are deemed to be hot-rolled steel in states of rust classified from A – D according to the following criteria:

Grade A – the surface of the steel is completely covered with adherent mill scale, showing little or no signs of any rust or oxidisation, and with no pitting.

Grade B – the surface of the steel has been exposed to the elements and shows signs of rusting, with the mill scale beginning to flake.

Grade C – the mill scale has rusted away from the surface of the steel, due to prolonged exposure to the elements. Any remaining mill scale can be easily scraped off, and early signs of surface pitting may be visible.

Grade D – exposure to the elements has rusted away all remnants of the mill scale, due to surface oxidisation. Signs of rust and pitting are clearly visible to the naked eye.

There are further classifications denoting the use of specific tools to restore the surface of the steel to a condition in which it can be coated. A variety of abrasives and techniques are listed to grade the quality of the treatment and surface, as follows:

Hand and power tool cleaning

St 2 – The steel is scraped with a hard-metal scraper, wire brush or disc sander, to remove loose mill scale and rust. Once cleaned and dried, using a clean brush or compressed air, the steel should be left with a slight metallic sheen.

St 3 – A disc sander, power brush or other hand-held tool is used to thoroughly scrape away all traces of rust and mill scale. Once cleaned and dried the steel will have a definite metallic sheen.

Blasting with abrasives

Sa 0 – No surface preparation is undertaken.

Sa 1 = Light blast cleaning, in which the jet is moved quickly across the surface to remove loose mill scale and rust.

Sa 2 – Commercial blast cleaning. The jet is moved more slowly across the surface, removing all traces of mill scale and rust. The steel is then cleaned and dried thoroughly.

Sa 2.5 – Near-white blast cleaning. Mill scale and rust are removed so completely that slight shading on the surface is all that remains. The steel is then cleaned and dried thoroughly.

Sa 3 – White metal blast cleaning. The jet moves slowly across the surface, completely removing all traces of rust and mill scale. Once cleaned and dried the steel has a uniform metallic colour.

As an example of how the classification process works, a steel surface with a B grade for rust, when blast cleaned to a preparation grade of 2.5 would be given a rating of B Sa 2.5.

Preparing steel for coatings

Shotblasting Abrasive blasting is the preferred method for cleaning and descaling steel surfaces prior to the application of a protective coating. This encourages maximum adhesion as well as limiting the risk of any further corrosion taking place once the coating has been applied. The aim is to provide a profile height that remains consistent across the steel, encouraging a uniformly ‘keyed’ surface. This ensures the coating can be evenly distributed, with superior staying power and a greatly reduced chance of hairline cracks appearing in the coating further down the line.

You may need to remind your clients that a prepared steel surface can quickly deteriorate when exposed to the elements. It’s essential to maintain the steel in a dry condition before applying the coating as soon as possible, or there may be a risk that further treatments might be necessary. Choose the best coating for the job, which can cope with the damp British weather and can withstand the elements and environmental issues.

When it comes to preparation for a roof coating product, the Swedish Standard classifications for preparation are the preferred approach and will prolong the life of your roof coating.

Giromax® products will also help you to prolong the lifespan of commercial roofing systems. We offer innovative, market-leading solutions for cut edge corrosion and weather damage.

If you need advice on preparing roof systems or applying any of our product range, please speak to the Giromax team or call 01455 558969 today.

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Giromax® Data sheets + Specifications, Girocote Data sheets.