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Tuesday, 11 December

An Essential Guide to Designing and Maintaining Rooftop Walkways

Rooftop

Working at height doesn't have to be perilous, writes Barry Eagle. A well designed and maintained rooftop walkway reduces the threat of accidents by creating a secure and reliable walking surface. 

Ensuring the safety of workers at height should be the priority for anyone with site management responsibilities, as well as designers. The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) state that designers must 'eliminate foreseeable health and safety risks to anyone and where that is not possible, take steps to reduce or control those risks'.

Under this regulation, where regular access is identified onto a roof, there is a legal requirement to provide a safe means of transit for the purposes of essential works, inspection and maintenance.

 

Here are some essential tips for designing and maintaining a safe and robust system of rooftop walkways.

 

Materials

Many commercial rooftops are nothing more than fragile substrates or membranes over the building proper.  These fragile shells protect the building from the elements but also have a limited capacity for weight.

When it comes to creating a system of rooftop walkways, this will be the key consideration when it comes to choosing materials. They should be relatively lightweight, with a high strength-to-weight ratio. PVC, aluminium and glass reinforced plastic are popular materials for rooftop walkways. They are able to withstand the rigors of all weather, particularly UV exposure, are light and modular in design, while providing essential grip and safety.

 

Don't use timber

While attractive for its many natural virtues, wood is a poor choice of material for rooftop walkways. When timber gets wet, even when treated, it can become a serious slipping hazard. A slip on a roof can result in serious injury. Wood also has the potential to weaken and rot in particularly bad weather. As a low-risk inspection area, wooden walkways on building rooftops can potentially deteriorate between inspections, exposing staff to the danger of injury.

 

Test the load bearing capacity

As well as being light, rooftop walkways need to bear the weight of foot traffic and potentially bear the weight of large units, such as air conditioners. Any roof walkway system needs to satisfy the load-bearing requirements contained in regulation BS EN 516:2006.

BS EN 516:2006.requires walkways to be tested with a load of 1.5Kn over an area 100mm.sq and deflection kept within 15 mm or 1/100 of the span, whichever is lesser. The load is then to be increased to 2.6Kn and held for a minute.

If the materials you choose fail this test, they are not considered suitable for the task.

 

Fitting

Plot a logical route - roof walkways help define a clear, safe path for users. In addition to providing access to everything on the roof, walkways offer easy access up slopes and across pitched roofs. Providing an efficient route around the roof also ensures that people won't be up there any longer than necessary.

When designing a route, speak to maintenance crews, and other stakeholders to make sure your layout meets the needs of those who use it.

 

Ensure safe drainage

Slips and trips can easily become falls from height if they occur on roofs. Being exposed to the weather and rarely inspected, pooling water can become a serious hazard. In addition to being a danger, it can also cause damage to the roof over time.

Design your walkways with drainage in mind, either by utilising gratings or creating gully channels that lead to the rest of the roof drainage system.

 

Check that the fixings don't damage the roof

One of the major reasons for fitting a roof walkway is to protect vulnerable roofs. So take care when choosing the walkway fitting system. If it damages the roof, fitting it is counterproductive but more importantly, it can compromise a roof's waterproof membrane.

Ideally, a walkway should enable clamping to the roof profile without piercing the sheeting. This applies to both the walkway and any associated handrails. Some walkways are designed to have the handrails attached as an integral element of the walkway. This prevents the roof sheet being penetrated.

 

Incorporate handrails where required

If the roofing structure is a fragile substrate, care must be taken to provide adequate protection, especially around roof pitches. Walkways can be fitted with handrails to provide additional safety on narrow or surfaces on gradients in excess of 10 degrees.

 

Aftercare & maintenance

While designed to be reliable and strong, accidents do happen. When undertaking roof maintenance, practice safe conduct. Never work alone and make sure no more than one person's weight is on a section of walkway at a time.

 

Flexible seasonal maintenance

Because most roof walkways are designed to facilitate roof maintenance, it makes sense to ensure that the walkway itself will not require much maintenance of its own. Having the right materials will ensure that maintenance can be minimal.

However, when the time comes to undertake maintenance, it's important to consider seasonal impacts. During the spring is a good time to check for any damage the winter months may have caused. Check for any obvious signs of slipping hazards and assess the condition of the walkways to ensure nothing has been damaged.

Before the colder weather sets in, make sure any major maintenance is undertaken. Repairing walkways is much more challenging in colder months. During the winter, you really don't need to do much unless an emergency occurs. After particularly bad weather, make sure to check the integrity of the walkway along with the rest of the roof.

A modular walkways system makes it easy to remove and replace individual pieces without dismantling other parts of the walkway.

 

The Eagle has landed

The article was written by Barry Eagle, MD at GripClad, a supplier of anti-slip flooring for industrial, commercial and public access areas.

Picture: A well designed and maintained rooftop walkway reduces the threat of accidents by creating a secure and reliable walking surface. 

Article written by Barry Eagle

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