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Don’t go throwing caution to the wind

Extreme weather adds an extra layer of risk for operatives working at height – but there are steps site managers can take to mitigate the problem.

Given the spate of catastrophic storms in recent years, the need for operatives working at height to have the necessary safety protocols in place becomes more important than ever.

The National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) guidance on roofing and cladding in windy conditions goes some way to promoting best practice, highlighting the recommended course of action when planning and executing roof work.

But is the industry doing all it can to ensure the safety of its operatives when the weather takes a turn for the worst?

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 require that weather conditions are considered when planning any work at height. However, the guidelines set out by the NFRC, which clearly outline the conditions under which those operating at height should cease work, are not compulsory. This leaves the guidelines open to interpretation, putting workers at risk.

Training for roofers does exist in some capacity but more often than not they learn their trade on the job. As such, they are reliant on the experience of the site manager, whose role it is to tell them when working conditions are unsafe.

However, not all site managers have the necessary experience and training, and those that do understand the dangers of operating in extreme weather are sometimes reluctant to down tools, due to the strict time constraints to which they are working to.

Clear rules required

Current safety standards applied by the Health and Safety Executive, alongside guidance from the NFRC, seek to limit the potential danger, but we need much more prescriptive regulation backed by insights from the relevant trade associations including the MCRMA, NFRC and the ACR.

“The design team must first understand the ways in which factors such as height and shape will have a bearing on a building’s ability to withstand the forces of nature”

The introduction of clear legislation would improve safety standards across the board.

At CA, we take a best practice approach to minimise downtime and maximise safety. This begins early on in the planning stages of a build.

To better understand the risks of a project, the design team must first understand the building’s strengths and weaknesses and the ways in which factors such as height and shape, as well as location, will have a bearing on its ability to withstand the forces of nature.

We calculate maximum potential weather loading (wind, rain and snow) for the building according to the British Standard code of practice, as a key part of the specification process.

When work begins, all materials are secured during transit, with metal banding around roof sheets to ensure safe delivery. A few days ahead of time, and as work progresses, we monitor the weather forecast.

Ahead of the rain

By being proactive, the site team can plan its time in the most efficient way possible, particularly when cranes are required on site.

“All site managers are equipped with an anemometer along with very prescriptive instructions to which operatives must adhere”

In the aftermath of extreme weather conditions, all edge protection, safety netting, stair towers and fixed scaffolding are inspected to ensure it is safe and secure to proceed, and that this safety hasn’t been compromised by the weather, before operatives are allowed on the roof.

Standard practice when operating on site in the event of extreme weather conditions is to double or even triple bind sheets to the steelwork with 10 mm rope as a minimum, with cargo nets used to secure materials on flat roofs.

To accurately monitor wind speed on a project, all site managers are equipped with an anemometer along with very prescriptive instructions to which operatives must adhere.

Our protocol not only monitors wind speed in relation to sheet size and height at which the operative is carrying out the task, but also the way in which different materials react in extreme weather conditions, which part of the building is being worked on and the specific location of the job taking place.

It is the site manager’s responsibility to weigh up the situation and make the best decision for the safety of all operatives while keeping in mind the objectives of the contractor and client. The introduction of clear legislation would help them to achieve this.

Peter Donohue is health, safety and environment manager at CA Group

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