PART 1 – Fall Arrest, Temporary Ladders, Hoops and MEWPS

This blog looks at the fall protection issues relating to your roof access strategy of predominately non-domestic buildings.  It does not cover slate roofs or other steep roofs, or cement roofs, although much of part 1 may be relevant.  There are many issues to consider and all organisations who have flat roofs will need to have a strategy and method and risk in place.

The Use of Temporary Ladders for Roof Access

The first question to consider is how to get onto the roof?  If the roof is 7m or less in height and you are only accessing typically once a year for maintenance, then you may consider a temporary ladder, but this is by no means the preferred or safest method.  For this to be done as safely as possible, you will need a level platform at ground level, ladder lashing points with a minimum strength of 2.5kN and ladder lashing straps that are tensionable.   The roof at the top must be horizontal, not sloping to the side.  You should use a class 1 ladder with enough height to extend to 1m above roof level when angled at 75 degrees.  Always wear a working-at-height helmet when accessing your roof.  If you have a big parapet causing a step down from the access point, a temporary ladder may not be suitable.

There are many falls each year from temporary ladders, and consideration should be given to alternative access methods.

The Use of a Cherry Picker or Scissor Lift for Roof Access

Using a cherry picker or scissor lift to access a roof is a perfectly reasonable method.  IPAF previously trained operatives that this was unacceptable but have since seen sense and now advise that it is subject to adequate method and risk.  You will need to ensure you have suitable terrain, trained operatives and the budget available to hire or buy the access plant.

Fixed Ladders Safety – Hoops or Fall Arrest Protection

Given the disadvantages of the above two methods it is clear why fixed hooped ladders are popular.  However, in 2012 the HSE published guidance that the hoops of hooped ladders may not be effective at arresting a fall.  In fact they can do serious damage!  On top of this, the hazards of fixed ladders are often exacerbated by bad installs.  All too often we find that a ladders’ design has failed to account for a protruding gutter or fascia, and the required 150mm of foot room behind the wrung is not present.   This means at the very top of the ladder, you end up with just your toes on the ladder rungs!  We also frequently find that although a top gate is a requirement of the British Standard for fixed ladders, one is rarely provided.

At Fall Protection Solutions we solve these problems by installing a vertical cable fall arrest system.  Operatives attach to the cable via a grab device connected to the front of their harness.  The operative is free to climb with all hands on the ladder.  In the event of a slip the grab device latches onto the vertical cable and arrests the fall.  An extension pole at the top of the ladder extends the system above the top platform height, aiding a smooth transition from ladder to roof.  An additional anchor point towards the top of the extension post is used to connect the operatives’ lanyard to protect the transition from ladder to roof.

Vertical Cable Fall Arrest System

Safe Roof Access on Fixed Ladder

When we do this it is important that we remove all but the top two hoops.  This ensures that any fall that occurs is clean, allowing the fall arrest devices to operate correctly.  It also facilitates rescue which could otherwise be hindered by the hoops.  Rescue and training will be covered in Part 3 of our Roof Access Strategy series.  Next, part 2 will go on to discuss transition to roof and on roof solutions.  Follow so as not to miss it!

Update Ref Fall Arrest On Ladders 2023

The latest standards on fixed ladders state that collective protection should be given precedence over personal protection (as per the Working At Height Regulations 2005). Therefore hoops on fixed ladders should be the first consideration.  This seams to contradict previous guidance.  I would personally look at this from two points of view. Firstly, does the environment pose a particular risk?  Is it slippy (oils and grease from extractors)? Is the site especially windy? Do operatives need to go up in all weather conditions?  Is the design in some way particularly exposed? All these factors could tip the balance towards using a vertical ladder fall arrest system.

Secondly, what is your working at height strategy looking like throughout the rest of your site?  Are you already using harness-based systems and have trained staff?  If so, perhaps integrating a fall arrest system on your ladders makes more sense.