The UK’s commercial rooftops are becoming more crowded places. Dean Allen, Safe Access Executive at Fixfast, explores the safety and cost implications for Facilities Managers of maintaining the growing amount of rooftop equipment on today’s commercial buildings.
Building owners and occupiers are increasingly seeing their roof space as an untapped asset. The growing prevalence of rooftop solar PV is good evidence of this. Domestic and commercial property owners alike are recognising the potential sustainability and cost saving benefits of rooftop solar PV.
Similarly, green roofs continue to gain favour with architects. When you add to this the usual HVAC systems, telecommunications antennae, vents and polycarbonate rooflights, you can see how the typical commercial rooftop is becoming a crowded place.
The Need for Rooftop Maintenance
All this equipment of course requires installation and regular maintenance, cleaning and inspection. Such maintenance is often forgotten, with the provision for safe access being made on an ad-hoc, unplanned and temporary basis. But while rooftops aren’t part of the regular daily vista, out of sight should not mean out of mind. For Facilities Managers, there are some very powerful motivations for keeping well-planned height safety towards the top of their agenda.
Safety at Height
The safety of every operative or site visitor is certainly the number one priority for any Facilities Manager. On average there are 43,000 falls from height in the UK per year, with 25 of these being fatalities in 2016/17. Indeed, falls from height are one of the most common causes of death in the workplace.
What’s more, deaths and serious injuries caused by falls from height are the most frequently reported health and safety prosecutions. Under the Work at Height Regulations 2005, the number of company Directors and Managers prosecuted by the HSE in the year to March 2016 more than trebled. And fines in 2016/16, totalled £69.9 million.
So, for companies and their Directors, the effort and expense of good height safety practice are clearly worthwhile, even if no size of fine or sentence should motivate more than a fatality. What therefore should Facilities Managers do to best protect the people working at height on their sites?
What do the Work at Height Regulations Say?
As a starting point, the stipulations of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 serve as useful guidance for duty holders:
- all work at height should be properly planned and organised
- those involved in work at height should be competent
- the risks from work at height should be assessed
- appropriate work equipment should be selected and used
- the risks of working on or near fragile surfaces should be properly managed
- the equipment used for work at height should be properly inspected and maintained
From a cost perspective, not investing in permanent safe access equipment leaves Facilities Managers reliant on pricey temporary solutions, and limits them to hiring only specialised, and therefore expensive, maintenance contractors.
The Effect of Lack of Rooftop Maintenance (hint: it's not good)
Easier access also ensures good working order of the roof asset itself by promoting more frequent maintenance and inspection. In fact, studies in the US have shown that roofs that are ignored only last an average of 13 to 14 years. But where a proactive maintenance programme is implemented, the same roof has an average service life of over 21 years. By carrying out planned repairs as opposed to emergency repairs, managers can expect to save 25 to 50 percent on maintenance costs over the life of the roof.
Cost Saving Benefits of Rooftop Access
With technological advancements, and a growing emphasis on sustainability, there is an increasing amount of equipment and plant on roofs – and these have to be serviced. So, for the Facilities Managers that take a proactive, long-term view on roof access and maintenance, there are considerable safety and cost-saving benefits to be gained.