When workers access rooftops, the number one priority is their safety. A variety of equipment exists for just that reason. One of the most important pieces of roofing equipment that can improve worker safety is a fixed roof ladder (or wall ladder) system. These are permanently attached to the side of a building, structure, or piece of equipment. Fixed roof ladders provide workers with a stable, reliable way to get safely to the roof.
Pros and Cons of Fixed Roof Ladders
Successfully managing a roofing project requires meeting three important goals, namely timely progress and completion, high-precision craftsmanship, and—most important—worker safety. If you choose a fixed roof ladder system, you want to ensure that your workers don’t become part of the more than 500,000 people treated for ladder-related injuries or the approximately 300 people that experience fatalities from them.
When considering whether to use a portable or fixed ladder—and what kind, you’ll have to consider the purpose the ladder will be serving. For example, will it be used only for periodic maintenance, or will it also be required for the regular installation or removal of equipment from the roof? Based on the ladder’s purpose, you’ll also need to determine where the ladder will be mounted, the space required, and any additional safety requirements for ongoing use, such as cages and guard rails.
Regardless of the project type and ladder choice, the installer should perform a risk assessment for each fixed roof ladder and ensure that all crew members have comprehensive training to avoid accidents.
In discussing the pros and cons below, you’ll see that safety is a primary consideration, along with roof accessibility and exposure to elements.
Main Benefits of Fixed Roof Ladders: Safety and Roof Accessibility
Two of chief factors that are in the fixed ladder’s favor are roof safety and accessibility.
Starting with safety, while a portable roof ladder may be more convenient, there are risks in moving it around more frequently. In particular, there are more chances of setting it up incorrectly—such as at a wrong angle—causing the ladder to shift or fall. On the other hand, once a fixed ladder is correctly installed, you greatly reduce the risks caused by incorrect setup, especially once fall protection measures are in place.
Another benefit is that a fixed roof ladder makes it easier to access the roof, removing the need for workers to access the building’s interior. Workmen don’t need to carry materials from inside the building to the roof access hatch, plus the roof is more easily accessible in case of an emergency.
Main Drawback of Fixed Roof Ladders: Potential Hazards and Unauthorized Access
The arguments against fixed ladders are the potential for unauthorized access, damage, and safety concerns.
The advantage of easy roof access can become a liability if it leads to unauthorized access that leads to theft, damage, or mischief, such as break and enter into the premises or graffiti). However, a building owner can mitigate this by using a locking guard on the ladder or underside of the cage, or by starting the ladder six to eight feet from ground level.
While portable ladders have their share of hazards, fixed ladders have other risks. For example, if there is no ladder protection, such as bollards, the ladder can be damaged by trailers, trucks, and other large equipment. The elements present additional hazards. In the wintertime, the area around the bottom of the ladder may collect snow or ice, causing a slip or fall hazard. Exposure can also lead to early corrosion, especially with steel ladders, which lack the rust-resistant properties of aluminum ladders.
Other problems can occur with older wall ladders that don’t conform to the current health and safety regulations, especially using proper cages and landings over a certain height.
Choosing the Right Material for Your Fixed Ladders: Aluminum or Steel
The ladder installer will choose whether the fixed ladder should be aluminum or steel based on the type of project. For example, aluminum is light weight and rust-resistant, which makes it a great choice when the ladder will be outdoors for an extended period.
On the other hand, aluminum is a strong conductor, so steel will be more appropriate if the roofer is working around electrical equipment. Another benefit of steel fixed ladders, especially for commercial and industrial projects, is that its strength resists damage and will more safely handle the load of carrying up heavy tools.
Inspect Fixed Ladders Regularly
Before using any ladder, fixed or portable, inspect it visually before each use, looking for loose or missing hardware, cracked rungs, rust, corrosion, irregularities that could cut your hands or snag your clothing, or other potential problems. In addition, look around the ladder to make sure it is clear from any clutter, obstacles, or slippery substances that can cause the ladders to shift or fall. Guidelines also call for performing a more in-depth inspection of ladders at least annually, immediately reporting any problems, and keeping a record of all inspections.
Stay in Compliance:
Safety regulations, guidelines, and equipment will keep changing over time, and employers can’t afford to risk either worker safety or roof quality. It’s the employer’s duty to keep equipment up-to-date, ensure the safety of facilities, and stay in compliance at all times to ensure ongoing safety and quality.
Contractors are advised to fully educate themselves about Ontario Legislative Requirements and Regulations for Industrial Establishments. In particular, section 19 states that “Fixed access ladders must be designed, constructed, installed and maintained so as not to endanger a worker, and must be capable of withstanding all loads to which they may be subjected.”
Section 18 of these regulations details position, platforms, safety cages, side rails, rungs, attachment, and anchoring. Further, an inspection of structural design, including attachment methods, should be performed by a Professional Engineer.
Conclusion: Choose Wisely and Stay Safe
Roofing can be a dangerous profession, and worker safety should always be the first consideration. That’s why Elite Roofing, located in Vaughan, just north of Toronto meticulously adheres to Canadian regulations and industry best practices. When you work with Elite, be assured that we create the safest workplace possible for our family of employees while choosing roofing methods and equipment that will provide you with a high-quality roof for years to come.