Given the current state of the EN 795 standard and the ever-increasing thermal performance requirements of roof systems, James Gooder, fall protection business unit manager at SFS UK, looks at the implications for fall risks and fall protection systems
With 45% of total UK emissions coming from the built environment, the sector has a key role to play in the country’s decarbonisation agenda. Roofs, in particular, have come under the spotlight in this drive towards greater energy efficiency and net zero because they account for between 25% and 30% of all heat lost through a building’s envelope.
As a result, manufacturers are under pressure to boost the thermal performance of roofing systems. This is leading to measures such as thicker insulation, which reduces energy loss and simplifies compliance with Part L 1A and 1B of the Building Regulations, which focus on conserving fuel and power in new and existing buildings. Although these thermal performance enhancements deliver clear environmental benefits, they also have unintended safety consequences due to their effect on fall protection.
Standards are failing to keep pace
Since 1996, manufacturers of personal fall protection systems such as horizontal safety lines and safety anchors have been testing their products to the European standard EN 795. While the standard has provided useful benchmarks for the past 25 years, it has fundamental drawbacks in the way it assesses performance and sets out test methods. Most notably, EN 795 Type A and Type C anchor devices are only required to be tested installed to concrete, and it fails to account for different applications and roof build-up types.
These drawbacks have become increasingly problematic as roofing system designs evolve to improve thermal performance and with more efficient materials. To accommodate thicker insulation, some manufacturers have resorted to integrating taller spacer bar systems, which do not always consider for the lateral forces that can occur from a fall protection solution. This creates new safety risks in the event of a person falling off the roof because the force of the fall can cause the spacer bar system to collapse.
Performance and testing standards for both removable and permanently attached fall protection devices are in the process of being updated. However, the new versions are many years away from being adopted and, based on the current drafts, are unlikely to adequately address these existing issues. This means that, for the foreseeable future, fall protection systems will lack meaningful testing standards that account for sustainable building and construction trends. And that means major fall risks will continue to be introduced on projects.
The importance of testing
Different roof build-ups and applications come with different force considerations. Because existing standards fail to account for those differences, roofing system and fall protection system manufacturers must take the initiative – working together to carry out appropriate testing.
Our experience at SFS is a prime example – the SFS SOTER® II horizontal lifeline system is tested in conjunction with major roofing manufacturers at our in-house testing facility. SOTER® II is designed to adapt to a vast range of roof types, including those that come from larger spacer bar systems.
The system is engineered around load-limiting technology to reduce the forces of a shock load that can occur from a free fall event., limiting forces back to the roof structure to 6kN. To ensure the system meets the highest performance standards, we have carried out rigorous tests across trapezoidal, composite, standing seam and bituminous and single-ply flat roof systems. We also carry out in-depth testing for more specialist applications, such as inverted roof systems where liquid membranes are applied directly to the post modules
The importance of collaboration
This cooperation between fall protection and roofing system manufacturers must go beyond testing. It must also extend to the design phases, so systems are compatible with each other. Through our collaborations, we have developed the SOTER® II’s capabilities to better meet the needs of different applications. For example, there are a range of clamps to accommodate aluminium-rolled type, traditional-folded and secret fix standing seam systems.
For flat roofs, we have fully thermally broken sleeves and fasteners that minimise the penetration through the insulation or a toggle cup design that recesses the bolt head below the flat surface of the base plate, eliminating the risk of puncture damage to the membrane. And for composite roofs, structural BULB-TITE® rivets fix the base plates to panels quickly and securely, and the system can be used for arrest or restraint. To eliminate risk of human error, SOTER® II is also designed to prevent incorrect installation of the high load and intermediate posts, as well as market-leading spacing of the posts to create the most efficient system.
Technical support and professional development are also key areas for ongoing collaboration. The SFS UK Centre of Excellence has a training academy, which helps roof manufacturers better understand fall protection system performance and the implications of different roof types and applications.
Developers and building operators benefit from this coordinated approach to fall protection, too. It not only delivers essential safety enhancements and risk mitigation but also provides opportunities for features such as extended warranties based on project specifications of up to 25 years.
Securing fall protection, securing futures
Until fall protection standards catch up with the sustainability trends affecting the built environment, it’s up to fall protection and roofing system manufacturers to lead in this area, raising the bar for performance and testing across the industry. After all, this is a critical safety issue that protects lives.
As a member of Constructing Excellence, an organisation of construction leaders dedicated to positively changing the industry, we take this responsibility seriously – and we’re helping to educate stakeholders at all stages of the project lifecycle. For example, SFS is able to supply all customers with a library of BIM assets and data, so projects are fully equipped with the information needed to incorporate appropriate fall protection.
The new SFS Fall Protection Visualiser is an online tool available to architects, specifiers and installers that calculates all necessary considerations in a horizontal lifeline system project. This not only allows for automated roof system plans but also provides a schedule of all components and list prices and NBS specifications. This tool and others are available through the SFS ConnectSuite®, an online portal that hosts smart tools to streamline specification processes.
Innovations like these ensure the right fall protection systems are specified, installed and used – accounting for the nuances of modern applications and roof design innovations. And that means built environment can more safely enhance buildings’ thermal performance and progress towards net zero.
Learn more about SFS fall protection
Bethany Haller, Wyatt International
Tel: +44 (0)121 454 8181
Vincent Matthews, SFS
Tel: +44 (0)330 0555 888
*Please note: This is a commercial profile