Flat roof repair – the safe way

Flat roofs are becoming a common sight in the UK, especially on smaller buildings, garages and house extensions. Traditionally, they’ve been constructed from either three-ply bitumen or asphalt, with gravel used to provide protection from the sun’s unforgiving rays. More recently, however, ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) rubber has become the most popular material, largely due to its cost-effectiveness, durability and the ease with which it can be fitted.

As with any part of a building, there may come a time when it’s necessary to carry out repairs on a flat roof. Leaks and draughts can cause problems and are likely to get worse if left unattended. That said, such work presents a number of challenges and risks, so it pays to run through the potential hazards before diving straight in. With this in mind, here are some of the areas you may want to take a closer look at…

General health and safety

Flat roof repair should be seen just like any other do-it-yourself (DIY) job, which means that all of the basic health and safety rules still apply. This starts with choosing the right tools and clothing. While it may seem quicker to use the equipment you already have, it really is worth investing in the right tools for the job in hand – they’ll not only be safer to use, they should help you to complete the task much more efficiently.

While there isn’t really any task-specific clothing for repairing a roof, be sure to avoid anything baggy or loose-fitting. Garments that fit well while still allowing free limb movement will help to ensure that you don’t get caught on anything.

A high-visibility jacket can make you easily noticeable, but it’s not advisable to attempt any repair work at night – your own vision will be impaired and this will be dangerous. Start instead as daylight begins in the morning; this way you won’t feel rushed or tempted to continue in the dark.

Structural integrity

While you’re up on the roof, your weight must be supported sufficiently. This is why it’s so important to check the structural integrity of the building in question – any compromises will only heighten the risk of injury. While all properties should be thoroughly checked before any work is carried out, older houses are more likely to show potentially dangerous signs of deterioration. This could be in the form of cracks in the walls or even crumbling bricks.

Sturdiness also plays a part in a building’s structural state. Loose drainpipes and other fittings are more hazardous than most people would think. Ideally, they should be secure enough to act as a holding point if absolutely necessary. The possibility of these kinds of objects falling from the building should also be a concern as people passing below could be hurt.

Working at height

Height simply adds to the standard health and safety concerns normally associated with DIY. Falls account for more serious injuries and deaths than any other home improvement accident, with roofing considered by many to be one of the most dangerous jobs in construction. As such, there are plenty of guidelines and rules in place to ensure safety is paramount.

The Working at Height Regulations 2005 comprise a hierarchy which suggest that repairs at height should only be carried out if absolutely necessary. If the work is unavoidable, equipment and measures should be implemented to prevent falls. The last stage states that when the risk cannot be eliminated, the distances and consequences of any potential falls should be minimised where possible.

Of course, getting on and off the roof will be a significant risk in itself, so a secure means of entry to – and exit from – the working area is crucial. If possible, scaffolding should be used to provide a sturdy platform, with steps making the ascent safe and easy. Mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) are also handy for similar reasons and can be sourced from hire companies, although operational training will usually be required. Otherwise, a properly secured ladder should be the absolute minimum.

Heat-free installations

One of the reasons that EPDM has taken the baton from traditional flat-roof materials is that it’s easy to install. With felt roofs, bitumen is used as an adhesive and must be heated for it to work properly. As this often requires the use of a blowtorch, the risks of injury are naturally higher.

Rubber roofs do tend to last considerably longer than their traditional counterparts but when the time does come for repair work to be carried out, new sections can be laid easily, without the need for dangerous tools, heat or heavy machinery. The fact that specially made, waterproof tapes and other adhesives are used means the potential for injury is reduced significantly.

Flat roof repair doesn’t have to be difficult but it really does pay to prepare properly. As DIY tasks go, it is dangerous and certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s important that you make yourself familiar with all of the risks and learn about the best ways to avoid injury before placing your first step on a ladder.