What is the best form of access and egress?

By Jason Godfrey, General Manager, Safesite Limited

My recent Blog discussing the issue of rescue from fixed ladders and the HSE’s report on hooped ladders and fall arrest systems prompted a question on the issue of access and egress. While many roofs have fall protection systems installed, getting on and off the roof safely can pose a problem so a safe and secure means of entry and exit is vital. 

Over the years I've often been asked “which form of roof access is best?”  The Health & Safety at Work etc Act places a duty on both the employer and employee to maintain safe access to the place of work at all times.  Similarly, safe egress must be ensured.  Safe access to a roof requires careful planning, particularly where work is progressing along the roof.

Typical methods to access roofs include general access scaffolds such as stair towers, mobile scaffold towers and tower scaffolds, ladders, roof access hatches and mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPS).  However, as with any form of equipment, these will only really offer protection with the correct level of training and competency.

  • General access scaffolds – Inappropriate erection and misuse of tower scaffolds causes a number of accidents each year so it's essential that they are only erected by a competent person and that those using the scaffold have been trained in correct usage and in the potential dangers.
  • Ladders – Ladders are one of the most commonly used pieces of access equipment and can be used for short duration, low risk work, however a third of all reported fall from height incidents involve ladders and stepladders.  This is mainly as a result of inappropriate ladder selection for the task or misuse due to lack of training.
Unsafe ladder work
  • Roof access hatches – These tend to be a safer option when accessed via stairs or retractable stairs, however in many instances the last few metres are ascended via a safety ladder which in turn leads to additional risks.
  • Mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPS).  These are ideal for short duration work such as inspection or minor maintenance work and can provide excellent safe access to the roof. Risks associated with scaffold erection can often be avoided when a MEWP is used as a means of access to the roof, but please note, the equipment must be designed to allow safe access from the MEWP to the roof itself.
Unsafe MEWP work

Generally, the safest way to access any roof is by way of a fixed internal or external staircase.  Should staircase access be unavailable, then there are many factors to consider before selecting the appropriate access equipment. A thorough risk assessment should be undertaken to identify the risks and assess the safest and most practical method of access. 

If you are ever in any doubt, don't proceed and seek professional advice.

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