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Smarter Solutions for Rooftop Safety

Posted by Art Valentz on October 7, 2020

Rooftop safety should always be an important consideration for any commercial building owner or manager. Safety measures are equally crucial for the protection of the roof and the people who access it. Not all rooftop safety plans are created equal, however. For maximum effectiveness, go the extra mile with your rooftop safety plan to ensure your efforts are met with success.

Begin with An Assessment

First, understand what your roof looks like right now – and catalogue the potential risks in their order of severity. Maybe, for example, your roof edge doesn’t have any railings. If you routinely send workers out to the roof edge, then this isn’t just a safety hazard – it’s an OSHA violation.

Other safety issues may not be as serious or as easy to spot. For example, there might be pipes, electrical cables, and HVAC ducts snaking their way across the roof. This is a potential safety hazard, but only if these obstacles routinely get in the way of workers who are up on the roof. It may be worth it to go up with your maintenance crew or roofing contractors and observe their routines to get a sense of how they navigate the roof surface.

By consulting regulations and working with your stakeholders, you’ll be able to get an accurate picture of what your safer roof will look like. Your challenge now is to implement the changes you want.

Safety is in the Details

As we’ve previously mentioned, there’s a difference between creating a design and communicating your design intent. Since your design involves the safety of your workforce, communicating the details of your design is of the utmost importance.

Documentation is the first part of communication. You may not be an architect, but you should have access to some tools that will allow you to create a model of your design and annotate it with step-by-step instructions.

Your last step is to create a plan that is shared with everyone who will implement the safety systems. This is to ensure that all steps are completed correctly and in the correct order. If everyone has a reference point and is on the same page, your completed design will have a much greater chance of contributing directly to worker safety.

Understand the Utility of Rooftop Access Systems

It’s important that you understand some of the best ways to create safe access to the rooftop. In effect, your rooftop safety system needs to accomplish the following goals:

  •   Add handrails next to roof edges
  •   Allow workers to cross over cables, pipes, and ducts without touching them
  •   Permit workers to travel between different levels of the roof surface
  •   Prevent workers – as much as possible – from contacting the roof surface directly

Achieving these goals means installing certain kinds of equipment. Roof access walkways (with handrails) near roof edges provide the necessary protection against slips and falls. Crossovers help workers over cable runs, pipes, and ducts. Stairs allow access to different levels of the roof. But these improvements aren’t enough on their own – they need to be placed intentionally.

What this means is that you need to look at the workflow for personnel who are on the roof most often. In other words, where do they walk? At what point do they choose to cross over cable runs? Where do they most often choose to ascend to other roof levels?

In the language of design, the choices your personnel make as they move around the rooftop are known as “desire paths.” These are the paths that people take when no currently-existing infrastructure exists to support their desired movement. Placing your access systems along the desire paths you observe among your workforce will help them to use – instead of ignoring – the safety systems you put in place.

Creating and implementing rooftop safety systems is a science, not an art. Ideally, you will create a system that prevents accidents – but the design process only ends when you ensure that your safety systems are also enabling your workforce. Here at PHP Systems/Design, we specialize in creating robust rooftop safety systems that not only prevent accidents, but also help improve workflows while protecting the roof from damage.

Topics: Roof Safety

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