Roof edge protection: What is required and how to implement it?

roof edge protection for Leicester University Roof edge protection installed for Leicester University to keep maintenance teams safe when accessing the roof. Read our Leicester University Protects 9 rooftops with roof edge protection case study

It is everyone's moral responsibility to ensure that any risks associated with working at height is minimised. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 say that "the overriding principle is that everything reasonably practicable should be done to prevent anyone from being injured by falling from height. Duty holders include employers, the self-employed and anyone who controls the way work at height is undertaken". As such, as an employer, site manager, contractor, or worker - you do have an important role to play in creating a safe work environment for everybody involved in the works.

This article focuses on roof edge protection and lists what various parties need to do to protect someone from falling off edges.


What factors contribute to increased risks while working on a roof?

keeguard on a roof

Example of a KeeGuard roof edge protection system installed on a flat roof

Roofs are dangerous areas to work on. Here are some of the factors that could increase the risk of injury on a roof:

  • Lack of planning
  • The lack of protective/preventive measures/systems
  • Lack of responsibility
  • The type, layout and state of a roof (fragile, damaged etc)
  • The type of work required on a roof (roof construction or the maintenance of roof plant etc)
  • Construction stage of a roof
  • An inadequate level of training a worker has when working on the roof
  • Poor weather conditions
  • Human factors: a ‘this can’t happen to me’ mentality, complacency, rush, fatigue etc

What are the costs of a workplace injury?

Each of the factors listed above can lead to accidents. And accidents incur costs - either direct or indirect ones. If an accident takes placed, the company could experience:

  • Loss of life
  • Loss of staff and reduced morale
  • Loss of corporate image and business
  • A decrease in productivity
  • Litigation and compensation costs
  • Financial and criminal penalties
  • Disqualification of directors
  • Damaged equipment, tools, or property

Depending on the role you play when it comes to roof works, here are a few aspects that you need to consider. The list is not exhaustive, but it highlights some of the main points you need to cover before starting any work that involves workers getting close to a roof edge.

roof guardrail for a school Collective fall protection system installed for St James Primary School to prevent children falling off a roof. Read our case study

A. I am a site manager / building owner. What do I need to do to protect anyone from falling off my roof edge?

In a nutshell, your main duty is to ensure that everyone on site goes home safe and in one piece at the end of the day. In the UK, the site manager or building owner are usually considered duty holders and are in control of planning work (and, therefore, responsible for any potential incidents). HSE states that "those who own, occupy or have responsibility for a building, have an important role to play when arranging for roof work to be done. This includes considering the design and specification of a new building, appointing a contractor for refurbishment or organising an emergency repair".

Here are a few general aspects that site managers or building owners, together with other responsible parties, need to look at when it comes to roof edge protection:

What are the risks involved?

Figure out how users might get hurt, what particular areas are prone to accidents, what areas should be closed to unauthorised personnel and who could be affected if something went wrong (is it workers, members of the public etc?).

This is usually done in the form of a risk assessment. A risk assessment will help you determine whether you have taken enough precautions to improve safety on the roof and needs to be done before any work at height commences. Identify risks by walking around the roof (if safe) or using other methods such as flying a drone for example (if the roof is not safe), as well as discussing potential hazards with the people who usually have to access the roof.

According to Edge Protection Federation Cod of Practice 2014, the significant hazards relating to edge protection include:

  • Falls from height
  • Falling materials
  • Manual handling
  • Inadequate working space
  • Inadequate access to height
  • Lifting and lowering of loads
  • Plant and machinery operator competence
  • Structural integrity
  • Ground conditions
  • Access methods

Bear these in mind when creating your risk assessment.

What can you do to prevent these accidents from happening?

How will you eliminate or control risks associated with roof edge protection?

  • Planning - You must ensure that all work at height is properly planned and organised. Decide on the procedures you need to implement, who needs to be involved and what systems need to be installed.

  • Safety system implementation - Following an assessment, suitable safety systems need to be selected to minimise the risks on site.
    According to HSE, "the decision on which type of edge protection to use must be made by a competent person who has all of the information about the work that is to be undertaken".
    The Hierarchy of Control is a good place to start as it highlights the type of fall protection systems that should be prioritised. Select and implement systems that allow safe access to roofs, together with the addition of other solutions such as stepover platforms, walkways, gates, signage or demarcation where needed. The priority should be choosing, where possible, work equipment that prevents falls rather than manages them - ideally a collective fall protection measure such as guardrails and handrails.

    handrail installed on a data centre roof Roof edge guardrail keeping maintenance staff safe on the SunGard Availability Services Data Centre in London. Read the case study

    For roof edges, a collective system such as a guardrail is preferred for its ease of use and ability to protect multiple people. Read our blog post on how to select the appropriate roof guardrail system for your project for more insight. Before any work at height starts, ensure that everyone is familiar with the method statement, a document that acts as a practical guide for the workers to follow on site.

  • Training and supervising staff - Everyone working on a roof needs at least a minimum degree of working at height training. Depending on the type of work they do and the systems they use, workers might need to hold specific qualifications. It is your duty to check that anyone accessing your roof for work holds relevant qualifications or has been trained accordingly to the job they have been hired to do.
    According to HSE, before work starts and where they employed a company or individual to carry out certain work, duty holders must ensure that this employee is competent to carry out the work and is aware of the hazards and precautions to be taken before work commences.

  • PPE - When working on the roof, workers need to wear adequate PPE that is in good condition and fit for purpose.

  • The Work at Height Regulations 2005 states that equipment for work at height needs to be properly inspected and maintained. Ensure that the system you have in place is suitable for your site and is well maintained. Your duty is to inspect it regularly and reassess its efficiency, ensuring that anyone working on your premises does this in a safe way.

contractor installing roof edge protectionContractors installing roof edge protection guardrail

B. I am a contractor. What do I need to do to protect my staff from falling off a roof edge?

As a contractor, you are responsible for the safety of your employees and you need to ensure that the work they carry out will not put their lives and health (or others’) at risk. Here are some of the aspects to take into consideration:

  • Cooperation is the best solution when planning any type of work at height. Talk to your customer, your employees and anyone else involved in the roof work; this ensures that no potential risk is left unidentified or ignored. According to HSE, "on business premises, contractors should work closely with the client and agree arrangements for managing the work". Where possible, work with the other parties to create a suitable risk assessment for the work that is about to commence.

  • Ensure that all work is planned and everyone involved knows what they need to do and who to get in touch with for any issues of questions. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 state that "duty holders must ensure that all work at height is properly planned and organised". As a contractor, you are considered a ‘duty holder’ for the works you are carrying out and are responsible for the health and safety of your staff. You will need to:
    • Implement a safe system of work. A site-specific safety method statement can help with this. Everyone involved in the work will also need to know what the method statement says and what they have to do (according to HSE)
    • Make sure that you and your employees are competent to carry out the tasks safely, including supervision on site.
    • Co-operate with the principal contractor and help develop and implement the construction phase plan.
    • Produce a construction phase plan if you are the only contractor.
    • Before any roof work starts, you need to ensure that you inspect the roof, especially if the weather is poor, and deem if it is safe to carry on with the works. Alternatively, if the weather conditions are not suitable, postpone the work for later on.
    • Ensure that everyone who uses PPE knows how to do so effectively.

collective roof edge protection Collective roof edge protection system

C. I work on roofs. What do I need to do to protect myself from falling off a roof edge?

As a roof worker, one of the greatest traps you can fall into is complacency. Ensure that you do not become impatient or impulsive when it comes to the work you carry out. The ‘this is not going to happen to me’ mentality is one of the main reasons why falls from height happen and unfortunately, on a lot of occasions, these can be fatal.

  • According to The Work at Height Regulations and HSE, anyone carrying out work on a roof must be trained, competent and instructed in use of the precautions required.
  • You will need to become familiar with the ‘method statement’ for each work you start. Method statements are the common way to help manage work on roofs and communicate the precautions to those involved.
  • Before any work starts, a roof inspection needs to be carried out, especially if the weather is bad.
  • When it comes to PPE, you should know how to inspect it and use it effectively.

What is the law relevant to health and safety in roof works?

For more guidance on the law and regulations relevant to health and safety in roof work, HSE suggests becoming familiar with the following:

  • the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974
  • the Work at Height Regulations 2005
  • the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015
  • the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998
  • the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

Looking for advice on how to protect users when working on a roof edge?

Our team can help. We will design, configure, and install a suitable roof edge system that suits your requirements exactly, while helping you identify any other hazards on your roof and suggesting suitable safety measures. Just get in touch with our team today.

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