How to Avoid Hazards on Green Roofs

By Barry Eagle

Green roofs are in demand more and more as we strive to encourage more biodiversity into our towns and cities. Cost-effective, visually pleasing, and good for the environment, green roofs provide a wide range of benefits to owners and the community at large.


Benefits of green roofs

  • Increase the life expectancy of the roof membrane
  • Protect from UV degradation and weather damage
  • Improve air quality by converting CO2 to oxygen
  • Improve a building’s energy consumption by improving its thermal performance
  • Combat climate change
  • Low maintenance
  • Visually appealing


Some people assume that because green roofs are low maintenance that they require no maintenance. This is not the case. Without regular inspection and maintenance, a green roof can become unruly and potentially damaging to the building itself. But checking a green roof regularly presents a potential risk to anyone working on it. Here are a few tips to help avoid the hazards of green roofs:


Build maintenance into the design

By considering safety at the design stage, protection systems can be installed before planting and plants, allowing the green roof to grow around the system. This allows you to ensure the safety of people working on the roof without spoiling the look and feel.


Provide easy access

Roof access is essential for maintenance. Safe access can come in the form of safety ladders, walkways or internal hatches. These should be both safe and secure in themselves, but also allow workers to access a green roof with the tools they need to undertake maintenance.



Unlike normal roof inspections, green roofs require specific attention, such as removing weeds or replacing dead plants, checking drainage outlets and the roofing membrane. Dead plants can clog up guttering and make the roof look untidy, so they should be removed regularly.

The structure of a green roof is a multi-layered blend of membranes, liners, insulation and organic matter. As such, any damage to the roof may be difficult to detect and fix.


Prevent falls from height

Ideally, every roof would have full containment, but unfortunately this is not always feasible. Alternatives, such as anchor points, hand rails and walkways can give workers safe access to the areas of the roof they need to inspect. Whatever means of fall protection you opt for, they should all be inspected annually.

One more natural way to prevent falls from height from a green roof is to plant discouraging shrubs – such as hawthorn or pyracantha – near the edge. However, this should be in addition to, not replacing, measures that meet regulation standards.

Handrails and walkways are ideal for most roof access needs. However, when it comes to green roofs, you can run into problems.


Guardrail alternatives

If your roof has a lawn that needs mowing, a handrail becomes a liability. Mowing with one hand is hard enough, but when you’re on a roof, it moves from being a hassle to a hazard.

Employees can attach harnesses to personal fall arrest devices. These literal lifelines allow the user continual hands-free protection along a roof without running the risk of detaching. Whenever possible these systems should also limit worker access to the edge of the roof.


Be mindful of the weather

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 specifically state that work should not be carried out if weather conditions could endanger the health and safety of workers. This includes, rain, ice, wind, and possibly extremely hot weather.


Barry Eagle is managing director at GripClad, which supplies retrofit and structural anti-slip flooring surfaces for industrial, commercial and public-access areas. For more information, visit


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