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Steve Cookson

Considering the alternatives to hot works

Steve Cookson discusses making health and safety a priority during school roof refurbishment schemes

Posted by Stephanie Broad | March 16, 2016 | Outdoors

After months of incessant rain, schools across the country are now facing an urgent need to refurbish their roofs. For many, this essential maintenance will not wait until the summer holidays, but needs to be carried out quickly before leaks in the roof cause damage to the fabric of the building and its contents.

There are numerous types of roofing systems available for the flat roofs typical of most British schools and, often, schools leave the decision to a roofing contractor based on price and speed of installation. But these are not the only factors that should be prioritised. 

Health and safety during the roofing project should also be a paramount concern, particularly if the work is to be undertaken during term time - and one of the biggest health and safety risks associated with roofing schemes is the use of hot works to install traditional bitumen-based systems in particular those that use a blow torch for application.

The good news is that there are alternatives to hot works, which remove the health and safety risk to pupils and staff during the project and ensure that any knock on costs or inconvenience due to fire can be avoided.

Alternative approaches

Even in the most capable and vigilant hands, hot works inherently involve fire risk and the only way to guarantee that there is no possibility of an accident that will cause a fire is to remove the risk by specifying an alternative to a hot works-based system, such as a cold-applied liquid membrane.

School project, Eden Park

Cold-applied systems can typically be installed as an overlay of the existing substrate to provide robust waterproofing protection with a long service life. Not only does this reduce the fire risk and potential for accidents during installations, but it also avoids the need for future patch repairs, reducing the whole life costs of the project along with the safety implications of additional works for up to a 25-year period.

Fully cold-applied insulated roofing systems can also be specified as an alternative to hot works-based systems, providing an ideal solution for schools where there is a need to upgrade the roof’s thermal performance to bring it in line with current building regulations as well as its waterproofing protection.

Broad implications

While the risk of fire when using a hot works-based roofing system may seem slight, its potential impact on a school could be significant.

During the project, hot works will necessitate access restrictions for pupils and staff, which, depending on the campus layout, could cause logistical issues.

If a fire does occur, the implications are far reaching. Beyond the obvious health and safety risk to the building’s occupants, the damage that even a minor fire can cause to a school from flames, smoke and water/foam is not only costly but also disruptive.

Fire can cause parts of the school building to be closed, which may involve lost term time for pupils, the cost of temporary accommodation or the transport costs of decanting pupils and staff to an alternative location. Student work, teaching resources and school equipment could also be lost due to fire or water damage.

Risk assessment

All school refurbishment projects should entail a thorough risk assessment to avoid danger or disruption for staff and students. When it comes to the risks associated with roofing schemes, it’s important to know that there are alternatives to hot works.

Steve Cookson, Technical Services Manager at Sika Liquid Plastics

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