Roof Access: What You Need to Know
Before any work on the roof can be performed, the question of access must be addressed. Whether the facility offers a means to get onto the roof, or the contractor supplies their own, there are more considerations than you might think. Let’s explore some.
Temporary (Contractor-Erected) Roof Access
Temporary Extension Ladder
While a roof hatch may be installed, some companies prefer to have contractors access the roof by another means, due to security concerns or simply to limit disruption to business operations and minimize interior mess. For single-story buildings, an extension ladder may be deployed. It’s important that the following guidelines be adhered to for set up and use:
- The ladder should be in good condition with no damage or defects.
- Place the base of the ladder on an even surface, 1 foot away from the building for every 4 feet of height (i.e., a 4:1 ratio).
- Secure the top of the ladder.
- The ladder should extend a minimum of 3 feet (i.e., three rungs) above the landing platform or be equipped with walk-through extension handles.
- Keep ladder rungs clear of mud, ice, or other substances that could result in a fall.
Some companies do not allow ladders on their site. Another option is a stair tower; this is scaffolding that consists of levels of stairs. Contractors rely on scaffolding companies to deliver, erect, and tear down the stair tower. The contractor will inspect it routinely to ensure it is in good working order but leave the installation and tear-down to certified professionals. If you have built a relationship with a scaffolding company, offer up their contact information. Most roofing contractors will gladly use your preferred provider.
Mobile Elevated Work Platform
If the project requires work on gutters and roof edges, a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) might be used. This machine can transfer individuals to the roof with a ride in a 2-man bucket. Only those individuals trained and certified as operators should be at the controls of an MEWP. Because the machine usually transports two individuals at a time, the rider should also receive occupant training. This ensures that if the certified operator is incapacitated and cannot operate the MEWP due to the emergency, the occupant is not stranded on the roof. Certified operators must demonstrate good judgment and mechanical ability, as well as have a current driver’s license. D. C. Taylor Co. recertifies MEWP operators every 3 years.
Your roofing contractor will weigh the safety risks of the project when determining the best type of temporary roof access to use. For instance, if the work being done on the roof poses the risk of ruptured ammonia lines and there is a sizeable crew at work, a stair tower offers the quickest way to evacuate a larger number of people in the event of a disaster. Even if more permanent forms of access are provided, a secondary form of egress (e.g., an extension ladder) may also be erected for emergency use only.
Ask your contractor how they ensure these temporary measures are erected, inspected, and used properly. D. C. Taylor Co. has a start work authorization process, whereby a project manager or safety manager must review photos of the access setup and give permission for work to proceed.
Permanent Roof Access
If you’re providing a means of access to your contractors, you may think your job is as easy as showing them where the roof hatch, stairway to the roof, or fixed ladder is located. There are a few more things you need to think about though.
If your roof hatch opens such that the first step out onto the roof is within a few feet of an edge (i.e., an improper installation), a guard rail must be installed to protect workers from that exposure. Check to ensure that the swing arm on your roof hatch rail closes behind each person after they walk through.
If the opening does not have a roof hatch rail installed, D. C. Taylor Co. takes the following two measures: 1) making sure the hatch is closed after the last person comes through and 2) erecting a flag line around the hatch to make rooftop workers aware of the potential for falling through should an individual forget to close it.
Stairway to a Door That Opens onto the Roof
In the same way that a roof hatch’s proximity to an edge affects the safety of those using it, if workers exit a stairway door onto the roof near a leading edge, additional fall protection is a must. Guardrail and flag lines will be installed from the access point to the work zone to keep workers within a safe area.
A roofing contractor will inspect your fixed ladder. If they do not feel that it is safe, they may access the roof by other means. Updated OSHA regulations stipulate that by November 2036, any fixed ladder of 24-foot or greater height, must have a ladder safety system or fall protection mechanism installed.
Professionals who are used to the hazards of working on the roof are trained on OSHA’s safety requirements, hazard identification, fall protection systems, and PPE; however, according to OSHA 1910.28(b)(1)(i) and 1910.28(b)(9)(i), it is a building owner’s responsibility to protect general industry workers from these hazards. Safe access is a concern for any rooftop worker—whether they’re a contracted roofer, HVAC technician, or your own employee.