Working at Height on Green Roofs

Working at Height on Green Roofs

22nd October 2015

In a bid to cut carbon emissions and live an eco-friendly lifestyle, an increasing number of people are choosing a green roof – that is a roof with plants growing on it.  There are many advantages to opting for a green roof, including:

  • The plants reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and produce oxygen
  • Green roofs reduce the heat island effect which is one of the major causes of ozone production
  • The plants remove heavy metals, airborne particles and volatile organic compounds from the air which stops them from entering the water system through surface run off
  • Green roofs benefit wildlife and promote biodiversity
  • A green  roof increases the life expectancy of the roof membrane by protecting it from UV degradation and weather damage

While the benefits from installing a green roof can make a real difference, individual green roofs don’t have a huge effect.  However, a large area of green roofs in a city will improve the air quality.

For the construction industry, the increase in green roofs means that those who work on the roofs need to adopt a different strategy than when they’re working on a traditional type of roof.   While there’s a misconception that green roofs are self-sustaining and don’t require any maintenance, this is not the case.  Green roofs need maintenance twice a year.  First of all there’s the maintenance of the vegetation growing on the roof – weed removal, pruning and removing any dead plants.  Then there’s the actual roof maintenance:

  • Checking fire breaks and drain outlets
  • Inspection of components such as flashings, roofing membrane and mastic
  • Cleaning of any roof lights
  • Maintenance of any photovoltaic panels

These maintenance tasks should be planned for during the design stage and provision made for any fall protection systems so that maintenance work on a green roof can be carried out safely.  One of the most effective safety measures would be to install guard rails and if that’s not a practicable option, fall restraint or fall arrest systems should be installed.  These should be roof anchors and lifelines.  Lifelines allow users continual hands-free protection while working on the roof.  Roof anchors can be used as a single unit or a series of roof anchors linked by a horizontal lifeline to provide protection.  Where possible, these systems should be used as a fall restraint which prevents the worker from reaching the leading edge.  If any work needs to be carried out in an area where a fall is possible, then fall arrest protection will be necessary and the user must undergo the relevant training on both the equipment and rescue.

As with any type of work at height, safety on green roofs needs to be taken into account.  By considering the safety aspects during the design stages, the appropriate fall protection systems can be installed before planting which will allow the green roof to grow around the system to ensure that it’s relatively unobtrusive.