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Fall Protection – Regulations and Solutions

Under Work at Height Regulations 2007, it is the moral duty and legal responsibility of those in control of rooftop work to do all that is reasonably practical to prevent anyone falling.

Employers, employees and contractors must now carry out risk assessments, prepare a method statement and consider whether an alternative form of access would be safer.

When considering which type of safety equipment to use, the HSE advise a hierarchy of options to be considered.

What is 'work at height'?

‘Work at height’ means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury.

When considering safety measures and which type of fall protection training equipment to use in the work areas, the options shown below should be considered.

Fall Protection Hierarchy

  1. Eliminate the Risk of falling from a height. Can working at height be avoided completely? Can roof-mounted equipment be moved to a work area of safety or could other options such as extendable equipment on the ground be used instead?
  2. If working at heights cannot be avoided, the first consideration should be to install collective fall prevention measures e.g. safety guard rail around the perimeter of the roof in order to provide protection for everyone who has to work at heights.
  3. Finally, if collective solutions are not viable then personal protection systems, e.g. work restraints, fall arrest, rope access should be available to all workers to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur.

Collective Fall Protection

Where regular properly planned maintenance is carried out, collective protection provides the best solution for protecting workers at height in the general industry.

Depending on the suitability of the roof or structure a permanently installed system offers a passive solution for multiple workers by providing a physical barrier to the fall hazard, allowing them to concentrate on the job at hand rather than the safety system.

Although permanently installed, counterweighted systems allow safety installation systems to roofs without the need to penetrate the roof so does not affect water-proofing and allows the system to be installed without affecting the use of the building.

Other options include fixing safety guardrails to metal roof sheets or to structurally suitable parapet walls and folding systems which can be left out of view when not in use.

Other fall hazards such as roof access hatches or skylights should also be protected.

As minimum Guard rail systems are required to be tested and certified to the following standards: BS EN 14122-3 or BS EN 13374, or OSHA 1926.502.

For one-off tasks, e.g. roof or gutter repairs, scaffolding, access platforms, or mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPS) can be used, what should be considered when these options are selected is the fact that they require specialist contractors or in the case of MEWP’s user training and certification and require suitable hard standing and space next to the building or structure they are accessing. As these options are not typically available immediately, this leads to workers taking risks where they consider a task to be too short to warrant a time-consuming setup time for the safety equipment, this would be avoided if a permanent solution was in place.

Personal Fall Protection

Typically chosen when irregular maintenance tasks (i.e. less than once a year) are required to be carried out by a competent person and deemed not to be ‘reasonably practicable to provide a collective solution due to cost, unsuitability of structure or aesthetics/planning permission.

Although generally less expensive than collective protection options there are a lot more considerations to be taken into account, including hidden costs such as annual (as a minimum) inspection and certification, user training, specialist PPE, and in some cases rescue equipment and training. In the case of engineered systems, they are installed and maintained by specialist companies.

Personal safety systems and anchors normally require the user to wear a full body harness and the use of a connecting element such as a lanyard, flexible rope & grab, or self-retracting block.

Wire systems or Horizontal Lifelines are most often thought of when people think of Personal protective products but other options such as single point anchors, deadweight anchors (non-penetrative), and temporary anchors are also commonly used.

Safe access must also be considered as should the actual walking surface, a fragile surface or roof is not typically designed to be walked on and a dedicated walkway will minimise slips and trips, protect the area from damage, and be used as a demarcation to ensure workers stay within certain areas or away from hazards. Demarcation systems, providing visual indications of ‘no walk’ areas can also be a useful addition to a protective system when used with a safe method of work.

Two common terms associated with Personal safety products are ‘Fall Arrest’ which allows access to a fall hazard and is designed to safely arrest the user in the event of a fall and ‘Restraint’ (also referred to as Fall Restraint or Work Restraint) a system that allows the user to reach the fall hazard but prevents the user from falling by the use of a restraining lanyard.

Restraint must always take precedent where possible when designing a Personal Fall Protection plan and in some scenarios where there is minimal unobstructed fall distance available it is the only solution.

Where Fall Arrest has been selected, the Working at Height regulations requires a rescue plan to be in place.

Standards: the European standard EN795:1996 relates to the design and testing of personal protection systems, BS7883:2007 provides guidance on the installation of EN795 systems and BS8437:2005 is a code of practice for their selection use & maintenance. Walkways without guardrail are required to be designed to EN516.

Guide to Fall Protection Standards

Collective Protection

Personal Fall Protection

British Standard gives recommendations and guidance on the selection, use and maintenance of written fall protection measures and equipment for use in the working environment to prevent and/or to arrest falls from a height, including systems and equipment suitable for use in rescue. It also gives guidance on the rescue of persons working at height, in the event of an accident.

It is intended for use by employers, employees and self-employed persons who use the safety systems and equipment. It is also intended for use by designers, e.g. architects and structural engineers, including those who are responsible for the design of safe access routes on buildings and structures, by those who commission work at a height, e.g. building owners and contractors, and by those involved in training persons for work at a height.

BS EN516:2006 Prefabricated accessories for roofing - Installations for roof access - Walkways, treads and steps applies to installations for roof access (building products) permanently fixed to the load-bearing construction of pitched roofs, to stand or to walk on during inspection, maintenance and repair of facilities on the roof. Specifies essential dimensions, materials to be used, requirements with respect to the load-bearing capacity of the installation for roof access fastened to the roof construction including their fastening system, and the extent of testing.

Standards applicable to Fall Protection PPE

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