Health and Safety regulation bodies state that it is the moral duty and legal responsibility of those in control of working at height to do all that is reasonably practical to prevent anyone falling.
Employers, employees and contractors must carry out risk assessments, prepare a method statement and consider whether an alternative form of access would be safer.
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.
- UK Interpretation: A place is 'at height' if a person could be injured by falling from it even if it is below ground level.
- European Interpretation: A place is 'at height' if it is above 2m
- USA Interpretation: A place is 'at height' if it is above 4' (1.2m)
When considering which type of safety equipment to use, the options shown below should be be considered.
Fall Protection Hierarchy
1. Eliminate the Risk. Can working at height be avoided completely? Can roof mounted equipment be moved to an 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. 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 consequence of a fall should one occur.
Collective Fall Protection
Where regular planned maintenance is carried out collective protection provides the best solution for protecting workers at height.
Dependant 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 in hand rather than the safety system.
Although permanently installed, counter weighted systems allow installation to roofs without the need to penetrate the roof so not affecting water-proofing and allowing the system to be installed without affecting the use of the building.
Other options include fixing 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 a minimum Guard rail systems are required to be tested and certified to the EN standards EN14122-3 or EN13374, or OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard 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 set up 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 and it is 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 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 fall protection 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 Fall Protection 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, roofs are not typically designed to be walked on and a dedicated walkway will minimise slips and trips, protect the roof from damage and be used as 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 fall protection systems when used with a safe method of work.
Two common terms associated with Personal Fall protection 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 system 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
- EN ISO 14122 Part 3 Safety of machinery. Permanent means of access to machinery. Stairways, stepladders and guard-rails
- BS EN 13374:2004 Class A Temporary edge protection systems. Product specification, test methods
- HSG-33 Health & Safety in Roof Work HSE Guidance document for roof work.
- HSE INDG 284 “Working on roofs” https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg284.pdf
- BS 6399: Part 2: 1995 Wind Code this has been superseded by BS1991
Personal Fall Protection
- BS EN 795:1997 Protection against falls from a height – Anchor Devices – requirements and testing
- Class A1 - Structural anchors designed to be secured to vertical, horizontal and inclined surfaces, e.g. walls, columns, lintels (Kee Safety products Ringanka, Keyanka & Fall Protection Accessories)
- Class A2 - Structural anchors designed to be secured to inclined roofs (Kee Safety products Roofanka and Ridgeanka)
- Class B - Transportable temporary anchor devices (Kee Safety products Accessanka & Fall Protection accessories)
- Class C - Anchor devices employing horizontal flexible lines (Kee Safety products KeeLine & Wireanka)
- Class D - Anchor devices employing horizontal rigid anchor rails
- Class E - Deadweight anchors for use on horizontal surfaces of no more than 5 degree (Kee Safety products Weightanka & Wireanka)
- BS 7883: 2005 Code of practice for the design, selection, installation, use and maintenance of anchor devices conforming to BS EN 795
- A British Standard providing recommendations on the installation, testing, inspection, marking and positioning of EN795 anchors
- BS 8437:2005 Code of practice for selection, use and maintenance of personal fall protection systems and equipment for use in the workplace
British Standard gives recommendations and guidance on the selection, use and maintenance of personal fall protection systems and equipment for use in the workplace to prevent and/or to arrest falls from a height, including systems and equipment suitable for use in rescue. It also gives guidance on rescue of persons working at a height, in the event of an accident.
It is intended for use by employers, employees and self-employed persons who use personal fall protection 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
- EN341 - Personal protective equipment against falls from a height - descender devices
- EN353-1 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height - guided type fall arresters including a rigid anchor line
- EN353-2 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height - guided type fall arresters including a flexible anchor line
- EN354 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height - lanyards
- EN355 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height - energy absorbers
- EN358 Personal protective equipment for work positioning and prevention of falls from a height - Belts for work positioning and restraint and work positioning lanyards
- EN360 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height - retractable type fall arresters
- EN361 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height - full body harnesses
- EN362 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height - connectors
- EN363 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height - fall arrest systems
- EN364 Personal protective equipment against falls from a height - test methods
- EN365 Personal protective equipment and other equipment for protection against falls from a height - general requirements for instructions for use, maintenance, periodical examination, repair, marking and packaging
- EN517 Prefabricated accessories for roofing-roof safety hooks
- EN565 Safety requirements and test method
- EN1497 Rescue equipment, rescue harnesses
- EN1498 Rescue equipment, rescue loops