Nine Essential Tips for Designing and Maintaining Rooftop Walkways

Working at height doesn't have to be perilous. While falls from height account for many workplace accidents, a well-designed and -maintained rooftop walkway can reduce accidents and protect building maintenance staff. Here are some essential tips for constructing and maintaining an effective and reliable system of rooftop walkways.

1. Choose your materials carefully.
Many rooftops are, in fact, nothing more than fragile substrates or membranes over the building proper. As such, they have a limited capacity for weight. So your walkway material should be relatively lightweight, with a high strength-to-weight ratio. It should also be able to withstand the rigors of all weather, particularly UV exposure.

2. Test the load bearing capacity.
As well as being light, rooftop walkways need to bear the weight of foot traffic and potentially bear the weight of large units, such as air conditioners. Any roof walkway system needs to satisfy the load-bearing requirements contained in regulation BS EN 516:2006.

This regulation states that walkways should be tested with a load of 1.5Kn over an area 100mm sq and deflection kept within 15 mm or 1/100 of the span, whichever is lesser. The load is then to be increased to 2.6Kn and held for a minute.

3. Ensure safe drainage.
Slips and trips can easily become falls from height if they occur on roofs. Being exposed to the weather and rarely inspected, pooling water can become a serious hazard. In addition to being a danger, it can also cause damage to the roof over time.

Design your walkways with drainage in mind, either by utilizing gratings or creating gully channels that lead to the rest of the roof drainage system.

4. Avoid using timber.
While attractive for its many natural virtues, wood is a poor choice of material. This is primarily because when wet, wood can become a serious slipping hazard. Design your walkway with non-slip solutions in mind. This can include using spiked or tactile surfaces or fitting anti-slip treads onto otherwise slippery surfaces.

Wood also has the potential to weaken and rot if poorly maintained. As a low-risk inspection area, wooden walkways can potentially deteriorate between inspections, exposing staff to the danger of injury.

5. Check that the fixings don't damage the roof.
One of the major reasons for fitting a roof walkway is to protect vulnerable roofs. So take care when choosing the walkway fitting system. If it damages the roof, fitting it is counterproductive, but more importantly, it can compromise a roof's waterproof membrane.

Ideally, a walkway should enable clamping to the roof profile without piercing the sheeting. This applies to both the walkway and any associated handrails. Some walkways are designed to have the handrails attached as an integral element of the walkway. This prevents the roof sheet being penetrated.

6. Plot a logical route.
Roof walkways help define a clear, safe path for users. In addition to providing access to everything on the roof, walkways offer easy access up slopes and across pitched roofs. It also encourages users to stay on the path, which is important for protecting the integrity of the roof.

Manage budgets effectively by planning a route that take users where they need to go as quickly as possible. This also means that people won't be on the roof for longer than they need to be. Engaging stakeholders, such as maintenance crews, can give you valuable insight in this regard.

7. Incorporate handrails where required.
If the roofing structure is a fragile substrate, care must be taken to provide adequate protection, especially around roof pitches. Walkways can be fitted with handrails to provide additional safety on narrow or surfaces on gradients in excess of 10 degrees.

8. Employ flexible seasonal maintenance.
Because most roof walkways are designed to facilitate roof maintenance, it makes sense to ensure that the walkway itself will not require much maintenance of its own. Having the right materials will ensure that maintenance can be minimal.

However, when the time comes to undertake maintenance, it's important to consider seasonal impacts. During the spring is a good time to check for any damage the winter months may have caused. Check for any obvious signs of slipping hazards and assess the condition of the walkways to ensure nothing has been damaged.

Before the colder weather sets in, make sure any major maintenance is undertaken. Repairing walkways is much more challenging in colder months. During the winter, you really don't need to do much unless an emergency occurs. After particularly bad weather, make sure to check the integrity of the walkway along with the rest of the roof.

A modular walkways system makes it easy to remove and replace individual pieces without dismantling other parts of the walkway.

9. Undertake maintenance safely.
While designed to be reliable and strong, accidents do happen. When undertaking roof maintenance, practice safe conduct. Never work alone and make sure no more than one person's weight is on a section of walkway at a time.

Barry Eagle is Managing Director at Gripclad, a UK leading supplier of retrofit and structural anti-slip flooring solutions. Contact him at 44 23 8040 6796 or email [email protected] for advice, quotes, ordering, and samples.

Posted on Oct 09, 2018