Edge protection is critical when doing any kind of external roofing work. Data consistently shows that falling is the main cause of injury or death on construction sites in Australia, and most of these are from heights of 4m or less. Falls from scaffolds, ladders and roofs make up the bulk of these accidents.

Without some kind of physical barrier to protect against falling, working on a roof can be perilous. Edge protection isn’t only a safety imperative, it’s also a legal requirement. This isn’t reserved for roof construction work – it’s also necessary when installing solar panels or air conditioning units.

Installation

The type of edge protection to install when working on a roof varies according to the characteristics of the roof. This includes the pitch (or gradient) of the roof, its height from the ground, its shape, and the extent of the work. The amount of clearance around the building must also be taken into account.

The kind of work required also influences the choice of scaffold. A small cage-like assembly in one area of the roof might be all that’s needed if the job is simply to replace broken tiles, for instance. This can extend to upgrading the entire roofing structure, in which case an all-round guardrail scaffold is the best option.

Different roofing materials also need to be considered, as well as the roof’s general state of repair. Older buildings may have degraded materials that make them more fragile to work on. This means that workers will need a secure, stable roof scaffolding platform from which to reach areas that might not be able to bear their weight.

Legal requirements for installation

SafeWork NSW specifies that any edge protection system must be compatible with the roof’s profile and its own supporting structure. So it’s very important to understand the specific characteristics of each individual roof before starting a project. Only those who are certified as having the necessary knowledge and skills are allowed to install roof edge protection.

Other regulations include:

  • There should be no gaps of more than 450mm between any structural components, like rails or toe-boards.
  • The gap between the edge of the roof and the guardrail must be 100mm or less.
  • The guardrail scaffold height must not be less than 900mm from the surface of the roof, but note that this increases if the pitch of the roof is more than 10 degrees.
  • If the roof incline is more than 26 degrees, infill panels are required in addition to guardrails.

Different Guardrail Systems for Roofing Work

There are various types of roof edge protection, from simple fastening rails to a full freestanding guardrail scaffold.

1. Guardrail systems

These are simple yet extremely effective. They provide a robust physical barrier to prevent workers from falling. It’s very versatile, as the railing can easily be shaped to fit the contours of the roof, and can be assembled at any height.

There are typically three types of guardrail systems:

  1. A fixed guardrail is attached to the top of the parapet wall, with fasteners inserted into the building’s structure. The height of the rails can be adjusted, but otherwise, the assembly is fixed in place. This is suitable for large-scale or long-term projects.
  2. Collapsible or folding guardrails are similar, except that they can be folded down onto the roof when they’re not being used. The benefit is that the framework can be folded out of sight when work isn’t happening.
  3. Freestanding guardrails have the advantage that they don’t need to be physically attached to the building. Instead, this form of roof scaffolding uses counterbalance to remain securely in place. This also allows it to be moved around the building as needed.

2. Scaffold netting

Netting is commonly used in conjunction with guardrails. They cover the spaces between the rails to prevent debris or tools from falling and striking people below.

3. Toe boards

These not only help to prevent workers from slipping, but they also form a barrier at the bottom of the guardrails to stop objects from falling off.

Safety

Roof work comes with specific hazards. There’s the obvious risk of falling off the edge, due to an uneven or slanted surface, or from tripping over objects. Those working on the ground can also be struck by debris like tiles falling from the roof, and a temporary guardrail scaffold structure can prevent this. Incorporating netting makes it even more effective.

SafeWork Australia defines any work in a place where there is a risk of falling 2m or more as a High Risk Activity. As such, edge protection is mandatory. This must be designed, manufactured, tested and installed according to regulations AS/NZS 4994.1 and AS/NZS 4994.2.

You can read all the finer details in the SafeWork Australia Information Sheet for Safe Work on Roofs.

Industry Trends

The arrival of new technologies and materials has had an innovative effect.

New lightweight materials

By blending lighter metals like aluminium with synthetic polymers, modern safety rails have a high strength-to-weight ratio. This makes assembly quicker and easier, as well as providing robust and durable protection. This is especially useful for roofing projects where the guardrail scaffold needs to be moved around.

Modular systems

A modular system allows edge protection components to be assembled into customised shapes according to the building’s design, rather than erecting one large guardrail scaffold structure and trying to tailor it as a whole.

Technology integration

Computerisation allows us to use cutting-edge methods to design and monitor edge protection structures for safety and efficiency. For example, wireless sensors can be embedded in the guardrails to monitor structural integrity and send alerts if something is compromised. This greatly enhances our ability to proactively prevent accidents.

Roof Scaffolding for Hire

We have edge protection hiring options for short- or long-term projects. You can trust our more than 20 years of experience in providing all manner of safe guardrail scaffolds and other configurations. Whether you’re doing small roof repairs or need a more complex solution for an industrial project, you can contact ALTA Scaffolding with confidence.

Author

  • Joshua Knight

    Joshua Knight is the General Manager at ALTA Scaffolding, and has extensive experience with scaffolding hire for commercial, high-rise, residential and mining projects in the Newcastle, NSW area.

Joshua Knight

Joshua Knight is the General Manager at ALTA Scaffolding, and has extensive experience with scaffolding hire for commercial, high-rise, residential and mining projects in the Newcastle, NSW area.

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