The UK’s commercial rooftops are becoming more crowded places. John Hynes, Head of Safe Access 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. While the UK solar PV market continues to be dominated by domestic installations, commercial property owners and tenants are also recognising the potential sustainability and cost saving benefits of rooftop solar PV. The falling price of PV and storage technologies, are improving the business case for investment in these solutions, despite cuts in renewable subsidies.
Similarly, green roofs, continue to gain favour with architects looking for natural insulation that delivers on their client’s environmental and aesthetic objectives for a building.
If you add to this the usual HVAC systems, telecommunications antennae, vents and polycarbonate rooflights, you can see how the typical commercial rooftop is becoming crowded with equipment. And with that, why we are seeing a gradual, but definite change to our rooftop landscape.
All this equipment, whether part of a new build or retrofit, of course requires installation and regular maintenance, cleaning and inspection. This naturally increases the requirement for safe rooftop access, on top of what is needed for routine upkeep of the roof itself.
These maintenance considerations are all too often forgotten, with the provision for safe access being made on an ad-hoc, unplanned and temporary basis. Perhaps this is simply because rooftops aren’t part of the regular daily vista. But for Facilities Managers, out of sight should not mean out of mind. There are some very powerful motivations for keeping well-planned height safety towards the top of their agenda.
The safety of every operative or site visitor is certainly the number one priority for any Facilities Manager. Statistics from the Health & Safety Executive show that this is never more critical than when managing the risks associated with work at height. In 2015/2016, there were over 37,000 falls from height in the UK, with 37 of these being fatalities. Indeed, falls from height are the most common cause of death in the workplace, accounting for 26% of fatal injuries to workers.
What’s more, deaths and serious injuries caused by falls from height are the most frequently reported health and safety prosecutions. These cases may be brought under the Work at Height Regulations 2005 or, in more serious cases, under the general offences set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. In the six months between February and August 2016, health and safety fines totalled £20.6 million, and the number of company Directors and Managers prosecuted by the HSE in the year to March 2016 more than trebled.
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?
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, our advice to customers echoes these principles. We recommend that they take control of their rooftop maintenance by adopting a planned approach that works over the long term. By not making adequate provision by investing in the right kind of permanent safe access equipment, they become needlessly reliant on temporary access solutions that amount to much higher costs over the life of the building. Not having fixed safe access systems, like ladders and guardrails, also limits Facilities Managers to hiring only specialised, and therefore expensive, maintenance contractors.
Easier access has also been found to promote the more frequent maintenance that is needed to properly preserve the roof asset itself, and ensure the equipment on it is inspected and maintained – thereby ensuring their good working order and that the requirements of warranties and insurance policies are being met.
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. And, 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.
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.
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