Plant & Works Engineering
Exploring the options for safe roof access
Published:  08 July, 2011

Marco Norman, managing director of Safetyworks & Solutions takes a look at the various roof access systems available, and their most suited applications.


There are of course various reasons to access roofs, including the need to complete such tasks as routine maintenance, equipment inspection, minor roof repairs, and changing HVAC filters.  Less frequently, work may require employees or contractors to be on roofs for extended periods of time, such as when constructing new buildings, re-roofing or installing ventilation systems. 

Although recent years have thankfully started to see a reduction in falls from height, it still remains the largest cause of workplace fatalities and one of the main causes of injury. Therefore, it is of course vital that the most suitable roof safety systems are specified, installed and maintained.  In addition to this, training of personnel to use the safety equipment correctly is essential too, and an area that can sometimes be overlooked.



It may be necessary on certain roofs (including fragile roofs) to provide a level non-slip surface and, coupled with the increasing requirement for extended longevity of roofing materials, this has led to an increased need for the use of walkways.

When installed in conjunction with handrails, roof walkways serve to provide a collective approach to safe roof access. Walkways provide safe access across roofs, and they can be used on many different roof types including;


  • Standing Seam
  • Membrane (Protan, Bitumen, Trocal)
  • Metal profiles (Composite, Secret Fix, Built Up)
  • Traditional (Slate, Tile, Copper, Lead, Cement)


By creating a designated walkway across the roof, maintenance costs are lessened as the amount of foot traffic is minimised, which in turn helps to extend the lifespan of the roof. It also allows for any roof maintenance works to be completed more easily and no additional end user training is needed.

Walkways are particularly ideal for installation of standing seam aluminium roofs where regular access is required.  A walkway system will allow for easy, safe access for maintenance personnel and avoids the need to use the seam as a step. The load is spread on large regular bearers, reducing the risk of damage to aluminium roof trays and cement roofs, and preventing personnel from falling through brittle cement/asbestos roofs.

It is essential that the installed walkways and fall protection systems are lightweight in design, easily cleaned and rot-free.  As they are non-penetrative, the roofs integrity will not be compromised during installation.  It is usual for the walkways to be produced in light grey colour, but where the environment is a particularly hazardous, bright colour such as yellows and reds can be specified or used as edgings.


Roof gantries

Where it is necessary to access high-level plant and equipment a raised steel gantry system would be suitable. The gantry can be supported by steelwork installed at ground level, or can be suspended from existing structures. Maintenance operatives will then be able to achieve safe access onto roofs, voids and roof plant, and across obstructions.


Roof lights

Roof lights are a major hazard on roof structures, and personnel accessing the roof must be aware of the drops around the outer edges. Covers or guardrail systems may protect roof lights, or alternatively, employees working around roof lights may be protected with personal fall arrest systems. The best method of protection depends on the nature of the work activities. For example, when employees are exposed because of the work that they are performing on the roof, then a guardrail system or cover would be most suited. If the work was the removal, replacement or reglazing to the roof light itself then a personal fall arrest system may be more appropriate.


Access ladders

Access Ladders offer a secure and steady access route onto, and across the roof for maintenance works, and in the event of a fire within the building, they could be one form of escape route out onto the roof.

Steel ladders can be supplied with safety cage or vertical fall arrest systems for permanent access, and can also include landing platforms. They can take the form of Vertical ladders to access areas at height, Up and Over ladders to access plant etc., and Cat ladders. Ladders should ideally not exceed 6 metres, and vertical fall arrest systems should never be used in conjunction with cages.

Modem access ladders can be suitable for a variety of locations, including offices, public buildings, private housing and apartments blocks, and can be fixed onto wood, brick and metal structures. They fold out to become a ladder, and as they can only be released from above, are vandal and tamper resistant. This type of ladder is ideal for fire escape routes from windows.

Access steps, safety harnesses and rescue chairs can also be used in conjunction with access ladders for disabled persons.



It is important to consider the following before specifying the most suitable roof access system:


  • How often will the roof require access, and for how long, and by how many people?
  • Identify hazards
  • Assess risks
  • Specify the most suitable roof access systems
  • Ensure personnel are fully trained to utilise the equipment correctly
  • Carry out Annual Inspection and Certification of Equipment to ensure it meets industry standards.




For further information please visit: