Key considerations when choosing ladders for safe rooftop access

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According to recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), falls from height accounted for 44% of all non-fatal injuries and 25% of all fatal injuries over the last five years. Here, Tom Brandon, Specification Sales Manager at Bilco UK, discusses why adopting a bespoke approach to roof access can ensure the highest level of safety, suitability and compliance.

When specifying a ladder to facilitate roof access, it’s important to ensure you’re choosing the correct system to meet your project’s specific requirements. This includes identifying the reason for access to the roof and the frequency of access required. It’s also crucial to determine whether tools and equipment will need to be transferred through the access hatch, or solely roofing professionals.

This will provide clarification on where the ladder will need to be mounted and whether any additional safety measures will be required to maintain individuals’ safety when using the ladder, such as the addition of a safety cage or guard rail.

Once you have established your reason for requiring safe access to the roof, you will then be able to make an informed choice regarding which roof access hatch and corresponding ladder system is best suited to meet the needs of your project.

The right ladder for the right application

If access to the roof is required on a regular basis for professionals who need to transfer tools and equipment, a Companionway Roof Access Hatch would be required in conjunction with a Companionway Ladder, which is a 75-degree incline ladder with handrails that makes it easier for the user to gain access to the roof. When larger tools and equipment are being used, a Fixed Staircase Roof Access Hatch, also known as a Service Stair Roof Access Hatch, would be specified. This is a larger elongated access hatch, which should be specified in conjunction with a permanent staircase to provide permanent access to a roof hatch of up to 2440mm or 3360mm in length as standard available sizes

Other ladder types are available depending on the application and access required. Due to their small footprint, industrial vertical fixed ladders are always recommended for use in conjunction with smoke vents, as they ensure there is no hinderance to the flow of smoke through the vent to meet the minimum 1 metre squared free vent area required by the regulations.

Whereas, if the floor space must be kept clean and tidy at all times, for example, within buildings such as schools and hospitals a retractable ladder would be ideal where a larger roof access hatch of up to 1500mm is installed.

Special ladder applications

For commercial projects that require more complex specifications, contractors should collaborate with manufacturers to create bespoke ladder applications that safely and securely fulfil roof access requirements. Bilco UK’s in-house design and engineering teams work closely with roofing contractors to manufacture special ladder applications that are custom-made to meet the project’s specific requirements.

For example, if a ladder that has a reach over 10 metres is required to be installed onto the exterior of a building and will be used as a means of escape or for maintenance, contractors would need to consider a series of fixed vertical ladders that are split by railed platforms every six metres to ensure safety and compliance. The installation would also require the addition of a safety cage and handrails in order to maintain the safety of contractors when gaining roof access.

Maintaining floor space and ensuring walkways are kept clear is a common challenge when choosing ladders for roof access, which is why fixed vertical retractable ladders, where the lower section of the ladder can be retracted when not required is a popular and convenient choice. A detachable version is also available where the bottom section of the ladder can be removed completely and installed again when needed. Other alternatives that ensure ladder access security is maintained is the use of the hook on, hinged ladder gates or magnetic locking ladder gates.

Rooftop Access

When contractors need to travel across the roof for maintenance and access reasons, it can be a challenge to navigate the roof safely if there are potential trip hazards such as wires and ducting. Bilco UK manufactures a range of aluminium stepovers that can be seamlessly fitted over obstructions to provide a stable hand-railed platform that enables individuals to get from one area of the roof to another safely and quickly. As the stepovers feature weighted big foots it eliminates any requirement for roof penetration, therefore avoiding any risk of leaks or drafts. Stepovers can be installed with either companionway steps or fixed vertical steps, depending on the available space on the roof.

Whilst there are a range of ladder options available to roofing professionals to achieve safe and secure access to the roof area, it is crucial to work in conjunction with a manufacturer from the initial design stages to ensure the installation provides the highest standards of safety and compliance for the entire lifecycle of the building.

For further information on Bilco UK’s complete range of roof access solutions, visit or call 01284 701696.

For advice on how to specify the correct ladder, visit:

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