Watch your step!

27 October 2016

Access for maintenance on the roofs of commercial buildings is a critical health and safety concern. But, says John Grenville, managing director of ECEX, businesses must ensure the fabricator they use for access metalwork complies with the appropriate legislation.

Slips, trips and falls are associated with more fatalities and major injuries than any other kind of workplace accident and the misery and suffering that they cause is incalculable. That makes their prevention a pressing management concern. The central challenge facing those responsible for managing health and safety is to identify, and then place control and accident prevention measures into work environments.

There were 78,000 non-fatal injuries to workers reported by employers between 2014 and 2015, and among the most frequent causes of injury were slips, trips and falls from height.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) insists on a hierarchy of activity when managing workplace hazards. Risks should be reduced to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking preventative measures, in the following order:

  1. Eliminate: Redesign the job so that the hazard is removed or eliminated. For example, avoid the need to work at height where possible
  2. Substitute: Replace the material or process with a less hazardous one. For example, it might be appropriate to use a small work platform to access work at height instead of a step ladder. Take care to ensure the alternative is safer than the original
  3. Engineering controls: Use work equipment or other measures to, for example, prevent falls where you can’t avoid working at height. Prioritise measures that protect collectively over individual measures
  4. Administrative controls: These are all about identifying and implementing the procedures you need to work safely. For example, use safety signage if there is a spillage and perform appropriate risk assessments
  5. Personal protective equipment: This is the last line of defence. Minimising slips, trips and falls risks might involve equipping workers with safety footwear or fall protection harnesses.

Once you have assessed the viability of the first two – elimination and substitution – it’s time to implement engineering controls. The right access equipment is essential to prevent slips trips and falls on a crowded roof with pipework and training cables all around as well as bulky equipment such as air handling units, condensers and chillers.

There are many solutions to improve access and safety to those maintaining heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment on roofs. My own company, for example, provides easy, cost effective solutions which eliminate trip hazards on the roof and internal plantrooms, as well as preventing falls from height and making it easier to move around the roof and gain access to equipment safely. These include:

  • Step-overs to pipework, ductwork and other obstructions
  • Platform extensions
  • Bespoke walkways and access gantries to cooling towers, chillers and AHUs
  • Bespoke platforms and railings
  • Free-standing edge protection to avoid roof penetration
  • Tubular steel guard railing fixed to roof surface or parapet wall
  • Toe boards and kick plates
  • Handrail extensions/modifications
  • Access ladders, hooped ladders and staircases
  • Gantries, platforms and walkways
  • Mesh security caging
  • Fan guards
  • COSHH enclosures.

Whichever supplier chosen to fabricate access steelwork, it is essential to ensure it employs skilled metalwork fabricators with its own workshop, and that the company complies with EN1090, a three-part European standard that regulates the fabrication and assembly of steel and aluminium structures:

  1. EN 1090-1: Requirements for conformity assessment for structural components (CE-Marking)
  2. EN 1090-2: Technical requirements for the execution of steel structures
  3. EN 1090-3: Technical requirements for the execution of aluminium structures.

Indeed, it has been a criminal offence since July 2014 to supply structural metalwork unless it conforms to EN 1090. Buyers of structural steel and aluminium products are responsible for ensuring that what they purchase is procured only from an accredited company.

Part 1 of the standard calls for CE Marking, which demonstrates compliance with the appropriate manufacturing standard for a product. The CE Marking is the manufacturer’s declaration that the product meets the requirements of the applicable European directives.

EN 1090 Parts 2 and 3 explain how to ensure the competence of welders used on products. Before being able to weld products deemed to be of a structural nature, each welder has to undergo weld tests against an approved weld qualifying procedure. This process needs to be verified by an independent verifier, the test welds being subjected to x-ray examinations to ensure that a good quality weld has been achieved.

The path to compliance can be complex. That’s why it pays to consult an expert who, at the very least, complies with this stringent standard.