“Whether it’s a two-storey building or a twenty-storey behemoth that rises up through the clouds, fall protection is a necessity for many building projects to help keep key workers safe while they work from height.
This is especially the case when considering some recent alarming statistics, showing how 40 workers have died from falls from a height between 2018-2019, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
However, while architects and specifiers know that fall protection is needed, not all will know about the challenges of working from height, and the fall protection solutions available.
Understanding how protection works, and what’s best for each situation can improve the safety of workers, the aesthetics of the building, and the efficiency of the build.
“As most can imagine, working at height can be a daunting experience that is fraught with risk. From exposed edges and damaged tiles, through to open lift-shafts and fragile skylights to potentially fall through, there is a lot to consider.
Roof coverings and types are also becoming more varied. From green ‘living’ roofs designed to provide rain buffers, to blue roofs designed to collect water and traditional metal, lightweight roofs, there are a plethora of options now available to architects. Roofs are even being reinvented as breakout spaces for people work and enjoy, especially in urban areas where green open spaces are hard to come by.
Roof lights are also becoming more popular. Offering a more pleasing aesthetic to internal spaces, they allow in more natural light which has become a desired building requirement in recent years. But, as you can imagine, these lights can be fragile and if weight is added there’s a large risk of falling through.
It is this choice, and the countless variables of the surrounding environment, that can make it difficult to know what fall protection system is best to go with. However, in many cases, fall protection solutions generally boil down to two choices – fall restraint systems, and fall arrest systems.
“Using the guidelines from the HSE, if you have to work at height then you have to specify a ’work restraint’ system that prevents the user getting in to a fall situation. If a fall is a possibility, then you have to mitigate the potential consequences with an arrest system.
A work restraint system, or otherwise known as collective restraint system, offers the most safety for the contractor when working from a height. These solutions prevent users from having any chance of falling, whilst an arrest system lessens the chance of serious injury if a fall did occur.
Collective restraints include handrails, walls and even glass parapets around the perimeter of the building. Best practice suggests using restraints that are at least 1.2m high to ‘fence off’ the high-risk areas. They have merits; however, they often break the aesthetic lines of the building.
They also do not allow workers to get to hard to reach places, meaning maintenance tasks like cleaning can be made more difficult than necessary, or in cases, not even possible at all.
In many cases, fall arrest systems offer the most flexibility for installers to work around the roof with ease. The most popular type of fall arrest system is a personal lifeline system, where workers wear a harness connected by wire rope to a fixed anchor point, allowing them to move safely around the roof.
This system would likely feature on a roof pitch of up to 15 degrees where the surface angle is deemed safe for a user to work.
The added benefit of personal lifeline systems is that they can be set up in both fall arrest or work restraint modes, with no additional components required.
An example of a fall arrest system is the Soter II Horizontal Lifeline System from SFS. With a stainless steel body, the system uses innovative load limiting technology to spread and dissipate the shock load of a multi- or single-user fall.
Key to this technology is a unique patented energy-absorbing coil, which deploys and limits the forces developed during freefall.
As well as being less restrictive, fall arrest systems can complement rooftops and be hidden to the naked eye. Soter II is designed to be installed on any roof type, and has a low profile and design, making it less obtrusive in comparison to other fall restraint systems.
This fusion of rooftop and fall protection design working together was exemplified by the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize nominated project, The Weston at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
“The Weston at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was one of six buildings nominated for the 2019 RIBA Stirling prize while it was also a winner of four RIBA Yorkshire Awards for its design. To fit with the rural and picturesque surroundings and future vision for the park, the building features SFS’ Soter horizontal lifeline system (the predecessor to the Soter II) on the rooftop.
SFS and Templar Roofing Services collaborated to bring the park’s new building quite literally to life, installing SFS’s Soter lifeline system into the natural green roofline. With the low height of the Soter system, it ensures that it is not obtrusive, blending seamlessly into the structure of the building.
Martin Adwick, Managing Director at Templar Roofing Services, said the installation was ‘brilliant’, adding that as the roof had been waterproofed already, SFS worked with the company’s operatives to ensure the waterproof integrity of the building was maintained.
He said the whole process went ‘smoothly’, and that the finished product ‘blended in well’ with the green and brown roof finishes, while allowing future maintenance of the system to be carried out safely.
Along with complementing the building’s design, SFS’ Soter lifeline system also minimises the loading back to the roof, which is less than 6kN at any given point. The use of the Soter lifeline system will ensure the integrity of The Weston’s roof for years to come.
To meet the health and safety criteria, the system required a secure fixing through the green roof to ensure that the roof did not suffer from water ingress.
SFS utilised M8 stainless steel gravity toggles to fix the base plate to the roof, which was then weathered by Templar Roofing to provide a secure weatherproof installation.
“All roofs will have their own unique installation challenges, but with the Soter II Lifeline System from SFS, these can be easily overcome without compromising safety nor design.
The water tight base plate of Soter II is designed to cover most, if not all, standard applications and has been tested with trapezoidal, composite, standing-seam and bituminous and single ply roof systems.
It is also designed to be efficient to install and cost effective to maintain – if deployed you don’t necessarily need to replace every component, only certain parts of the fall protection system, therefore helping to save money in the long run.
Whether it is a rooftop worthy of award, or simply a rooftop to meet the working at height regulations, fall arrest systems offer flexibility, safety, and design all in one neatly hidden solution.
For architects and specifiers, fall protection must not be ignored, and if considered early on during specification, they can work in harmony with the building for many years to come.”
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