Having equipment on the rooftop comes with a certain amount of risk that demands safety be considered. There are many factors to assess, such as equipment placement and layout, accessibility for maintenance and repair crews, how rooftop traffic will flow, and how this foot traffic may affect the integrity of the roof. We go over common risks with rooftop equipment and how building managers can mitigate this risk and create safer rooftop environments with proper rooftop support equipment.
Roof Safety Risk #1: People
Even trained professionals will sometimes be careless with roof safety. It’s hard to blame them—flat roofs often appear safe until they aren’t. Still, you can’t argue with the fact that roofs are often the scene of serious—even fatal—accidents. Over 40% of construction worker deaths are fall-related, and almost 900 workers fell to their deaths in 2018.
As far as mitigating harm is concerned, building managers need to take the layout of their roof access walkways into consideration. If a worker is being sent out to maintain rooftop equipment, you should design pathways that ensure they’re never closer than 15 feet away from the roof edge. All access walkways should have railings, and workers should be instructed never to leave the pathway unless they’ve been tasked with inspecting the roof surface itself.
While we’re addressing worker safety, we’d also be remiss if we didn’t point out that any foot traffic that’s outside of a roof access walkway runs the risk of damaging the roof surface itself. To reduce roof safety risks to both your workers and your roof surface, make sure your workers stay on the path!
Roof Safety Risk #2: Weight
For various reasons, including saving space, building managers choose to place heavy equipment on commercial roofs. This includes HVAC pumps, generators, solar panels, pipes, and more. Unfortunately, this equipment can do serious damage to a roof—even though it never moves around.
Concentrating too much weight in a single area of your roof can cause the roof to sink in what’s known as a deflection. Deflections are bad for roofs because they’re the perfect area for water to accumulate. When water pools, it adds even more weight to the roof surface, which makes the deflection deeper, which encourages more pooling water, which adds more weight—it’s a vicious cycle! In the best-case scenario, you’ll probably experience leaks. In the worst-case—if a deflection forms rapidly and isn’t caught immediately—your roof could collapse.
Your job as a facility manager is to ensure that you never concentrate too much weight in a single area of your roof. This means spacing out equipment carefully—and it also means putting your equipment on platforms with ballasted, non-penetrating bases that can spread the weight of your equipment over a larger surface area.
Roof Safety Risk #3: Leaks
Leaks don’t necessarily need to be caused by heavy equipment. Lighter equipment, such as pipes and HVAC ducts, can also leak. If they’re not elevated by pipe and duct supports, these leaks can cause the same issues as above—pooling water, rotting material, deflection, and collapse.
Rooftop supports help in this situation because they make leaks easier to identify and mitigate. Imagine a leaky pipe that’s elevated versus one that isn’t. With the elevated pipe, there’s space underneath for any water to run until it reaches a roof drain. It’s easy to see the leak, because you can literally see water dripping onto the roof surface. Meanwhile, water will pool around an unsupported pipe, making it more difficult to identify the leak.
Roof Safety Risk #4: Fires
Fires aren’t necessarily a huge rooftop safety risk—which is why they’re fourth on this list—but obviously this is one safety risk you never want to encounter, no matter how unlikely it is.
Essentially, if an electrical cable comes into direct contact with the roof surface, and if the cable becomes damaged or frayed, then there’s a chance that the exposed electrical wire can short or spark, causing an incident. In addition, there is (an extremely low) risk of fires caused by faulty solar panels.
To mitigate the risk of fire—and to ensure the safety of your workers—place your electrical cables in elevated cable trays. This mitigates the risk of damage to the cable and contains fire risk by placing the fire hazard away from flammable materials.
Create a Rooftop Safety Ecosystem with PHP Systems/Design
Roof safety doesn’t occur in a vacuum—it requires several interlocking parts, from walkways to pipe supports. Designing your roof to minimize risks while maximizing efficiency represents a complex problem—but it’s one that we can help you with. PHP Systems/Design can help you design a rooftop safety solution that fits your needs.