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Steel Access Ladders vs Aluminum Access Ladders – Which is Better

Steel Access Ladders vs Aluminum Access Ladders – Which is Better

The question around purchasing a steel or aluminum roof access ladder is a common one. Let’s look at the differences between the two materials as it relates to safety & compliance, lead time, installation process, costs, durability and climbing experience.

Roof Safety & Compliance

From a compliance standpoint, you are indeed still in compliance with either an aluminum or steel roof access ladder. If it is constructed in the manner stated by your local safety guidelines and includes corrosion-resistant protection (applicable to only steel ladders), your roof ladder should be compliant. When it comes to aluminum access ladders there is no need to worry about including a protective film, as the material itself is corrosion resistant. You also won’t need to maintain an aluminum ladder over the years by reapplying that protective layer/paint, as you would for a steel ladder.

Unsure if your roof meets local height safety requirements? Ask about our complimentary roof hazard audit program.

Lead Times

Lead times vary for both steel and aluminum ladders, although because steel ladders require a protective coating, it isn’t uncommon to see longer lead times. The added protective coating process will extend the lead time of your order, making it difficult for a quick turnaround when an urgent safety solution is required.

Installation

Have you ever worked with aluminum? Your local contractor may prefer a commercial aluminum roof access ladder because of the following reasons.

  • An aluminum ladder can easily be brought to the roof via the maintenance elevator as it is extremely lightweight. There is no need to rent a crane to transport your materials to the roof, or close roads and your building’s parking area. Ultimately, drastically reducing transport and installation-related costs.
  • With aluminum being much lighter than steel, it makes the installation process that much easier and quicker, requiring less labor hours. Yielding reduced overall installation costs.
  • Aluminum fixed ladders also subject less load to the wall and roof surface. A steel roof ladder may require the surface it is being fixed to, to be reinforced.
  • Cutting aluminum on-site, in order to ensure an exact fit, is quick & easy.

At Skyline our aluminum access ladders are built in modular sections, making it extremely easy to handle, ship and install on-site. If repairs are required you can easily replace the modular piece versus the whole ladder.

Durability & Maintenance

Due to steel ladders being heavier than aluminum ladders, there is a perception that they are much more rugged. This is somewhat true, generally, a steel roof access ladder will better handle a transport truck backing into it. But keep in mind, for what the ladder is intended to be used for, there is no real need for such a heavy and rugged solution. Their weight is also considered to be a major disadvantage. In order to install steel ladders and move them around the roof, you’ll have to recruit help. Or rent a costly crane to bring the material to the roof.

We also tend to forget that steel ladders require routine maintenance. In order for a steel rooftop access ladder to stay looking brand new and keep its integrity, it needs to be maintained regularly. Outdoor ladders are subject to corrosive environments, think about the winter conditions we experience in Canada. As a result, building owners and facility maintenance teams do not want to deal with the yearly required maintenance to upkeep the protective paint and coating on a steel ladder.

Climbing Experience

We often find that fixed steel ladders are supplied with 1/4 inch rungs, offering limited traction (especially during rain and snow), resulting in an uncomfortable climb. Our aluminum ladders are manufactured with a wide profile serrated rung, making your climb to the roof comfortable and safer with the added grippy surface.

Aluminum vs Steel - Which Is Better?

If we look at which ladder is safer, well both materials would be considered safe, assuming they are designed to meet your local safety guidelines. Both ladder types offer an excellent solution for accessing your roof. That being said, you are most likely reading this article because you are looking for a solution to not just get the job done but meet compliance requirements today and tomorrow in a cost-effective manner.

Here at Skyline we are roof safety specialists that focus on aluminum ladders due to their ease of installation, flexibility in design, and overall reduced costs in installation and maintenance. When considering the above categories, it is the material that excels in each category.

Working on an industrial or commercial roof project? Or looking to schedule a complimentary rooftop safety lunch & learn for your team? Call our team of rooftop safety experts to help navigate our array of aluminum ladder configurations.

5 Reasons Why You Would Select A Non-Penetrating Rooftop Guardrail System

5 Reasons Why You Would Select A Non-Penetrating Rooftop Guardrail System

Both penetrating and non-penetrating systems will keep roof workers (contractors, maintenance staff, and service teams) safe while working on a commercial flat roof, minimizing the risk of injury. Why do facility managers and roofing contractors prefer installing a non-penetrating roof barrier system? Here are 5 common reasons why you would select a non-penetrating rooftop guardrail.

Rooftop Safety

Flexibility

A non-penetrating solution gives you the flexibility to install the system wherever you need it on the roof, regardless of any load barring or structural concerns. This type of system also enables you to reuse the same equipment once a roof is reroofed. Yes, you can do so as well with a fixed guardrail, although the simplicity of just moving the system to the side for a repair to the roof and putting it back in place without making more holes is usually underestimated.

Quick & Easy While Reducing Costs

Our line of RoofBarrier guardrails require less installation time and labor due to their modular design! For contractors, this means you’ll be saving on installation time, labor, and costs. If you are a facility manager, the reduction in labor will contribute towards reducing your overall budgetary requirements.

No Roof Repairs Required

If you plan on fastening the system to the roof, once the installation is complete you will need to repair and/or reseal those sections of the roof. Often the cost of resealing and repairing the flat roof is not taken into consideration when choosing between a fixed guardrail vs non-penetrating guardrail solution.

No Structural Concerns

At times, due to where the barrier needs to be located in order to ensure rooftop safety compliance, fastening a guardrail may not be an option. We have also come across this scenario when working on older buildings and/or historical sites where preserving the site is of utmost importance.

Modular – Growing with Your Roof Needs

As your rooftop grows in either square footage and/or safety requirements, you may require an upgraded HVAC system to meet your growing needs. With a non-penetrating guardrail, you can move the system to a different location on the roof with ease or add onto an existing unit with basic hand tools, ensuring rooftop safety compliance.

Summary

Ultimately, it comes down to how quick and easy the installation process is with a modular non-penetrating guardrail system. With a non-penetrating system there is no need for any re-work to be done to the roof after installation is complete, unlike fixed systems where you need to repair and reseal the roof, potentially voiding your roof warranty.

Is A Non-Penetrating Guardrail System Non-Permanent?

Is A Non-Penetrating Guardrail System Non-Permanent?

A non-penetrating rooftop guardrail or barrier system is made up of uprights, top rails, mid rails, weighted base plates, and various clamps and screws. They are non-penetrating because the base plates that enable the posts and rails to freely stand upright are weighted, thus not requiring the installer to fasten the uprights to the roof.

Skyline Ladders

Having a non-penetrating guardrail is indeed a permanent rooftop safety solution. Both penetrating and non-penetrating systems will keep roof workers (contractors, maintenance staff, and service teams) safe while working on the roof, minimizing the risk of a fall-related injury. Our line of rooftop guardrail solutions has remained on roofs with minimal maintenance requirements for 10+ years. Just like guardrail solutions that are fastened to the roof, non-penetrating systems will stand the test of time. With that being said, why do facility managers and roofing contractors prefer installing a non-penetrating roof barrier system? Here is why you would choose a non-penetrating rooftop guardrail;

  • Gives you the flexibility to move the system, enabling you to reuse the same equipment once a roof is reroofed.
  • Our line of RoofBarrier guardrails require less installation time and labor due to their modular design! For contractors, this means you’ll be saving on installation time, labor, and costs. If you are a facility manager, the reduced labor requirements will help towards reducing your overall budgetary requirements.
  • Depending on the design and material of your roof, fastening a guardrail may simply not be an option.
  • If you plan on fastening the system to the roof, once the installation is complete, you will need to repair and/or reseal those sections of the roof. More often than not, the cost of resealing and repairing the commercial roof is not taken into consideration when choosing between a penetrating vs non-penetrating guardrail.
  • Unlike others, our array of roof barrier products are modular in design, making it extremely easy to set up and install on-site. All you need are a few simple hand tools.
  • With each standard RoofBarrier base plate weighing 40 – 100 lbs, non-penetrating systems will withstand sunshine, high winds, rain and snow.
  • If your yearly rooftop inspection/audit yields maintenance and/or repairs, having a modular non-penetrating solution will facilitate the process. Furthermore, making it simple to ensure rooftop safety compliance.
  • Meets and surpasses North American rooftop safety regulations.

Ultimately, it comes down to how quick and easy the installation process is with a modular non-penetrating guardrail system. There is also no need for any re-work to be done to the roof after installation, unlike fixed systems where you need to repair and reseal the roof, potentially voiding your roof warranty.

5 Common Rooftop Safety Hazards

5 Common Rooftop Safety Hazards

While working on rooftops safety is a priority! With advancements in infrastructure and the need for businesses to evolve their physical space, flat roofs across the country are becoming crowded. These rooftop units (RTUs) and the crowding that occurs are a cause for concern. Today’s rooftops are presenting various potential hazards. This article will take you through the 5 most common hazards we encounter on a regular basis.

Rooftop Safety

RooF Edge Awareness

Whether you have all the time in the world to finish the project at hand, or just a few minutes before closing time to get home, there is always a risk we lose track of where we are on the roof. Roof edge awareness is ensuring that you are aware of how close you are to the edge of the roof at all times. At any point in time, if you need to travel close to the roof’s edge to get to an area of the roof, or conduct service/work while remaining close to the edge of a roof, a permanent safety solution like a roof barrier may be required. You also have the option of setting up a warning line system to help roof workers to quickly identify a hazard, whether that hazard is the edge of the roof or a skylight.

Weather & Visibility Concerns

Always keep a look out for changes in weather that can reduce visibility while on the roof. Rooftop surfaces like TPO membranes can become very slippery when wet, at the same token they can also blind you while working on a sunny summer day. Depending where you are located in the country you might also be subject to high amounts of snow, keep in mind that snow can easily cover access points and hazards, like skylights, overnight. Ensure you always have safe passage, regardless of the weather, to and from your rooftop access points.

Skylights, Hatches, and Other RTUs

As a safety precaution, you should always take the time to review the roof plan prior to stepping onto the roof. On the roof plan you will find the location of various rooftop units you are possibly looking to service that are close to the edge, along with vents, ducts, gas lines and more. Knowing this in advance will help ensure you take the safest path to your destination on the roof, while being aware of where the roof guardrail systems are located. In the event you are required to work close to the edge of the roof you will at least know if it is a safe environment.

Often, a roof safety hazard is only brought to the attention of a building owner once a contractor or service provider visits the roof to service an RTU, like a HVAC system. At which point it becomes an urgent request so that maintenance can continue, as work may be temporarily suspended until a roof guardrail is installed.

Roof Access Ladder Placement

There is a perception that many rooftop fall accidents and injuries occur on the roof itself, but the reality is that these accidents often occur when attempting to access the roof. With that comes training, employees who require routine access to the rooftop should undergo training to safely ascend and descend.

Before using a fixed hatch or roof access ladder, it is important to check the integrity of the ladder and ensure it’s safe to climb. No matter if it is the first time and only time you require to access the ladder or it’s a daily routine for you, reviewing points of failure is about putting safety top of mind. A fixed access ladder should have its feet secured to the wall and possibly the ground, with the top of the ladder being secured to the roof. Annual fixed access ladder inspections should be well documented and help to ensure your fixed access ladder is always safe.

Roof Stability and Structure

You may be working on the roof due to its degrading structure, working towards improving its stability and integrity. Assuming you have assessed the roof structure and are standing on a compliant and safe roof. One thing to note, and especially applicable to older structures, it is important to assess the roof and understand its load ratings and structure. Doing so will help you better understand what can and cannot be installed as a safety solution to the roof. Some solutions can be manufactured in steel, adding a lot of weight to certain parts of the roof, while also requiring a secure location to fix the solution. We have encountered many projects where the structure of the building yields an aluminum lightweight non-penetrating modular roof guardrail, like our Roofbarrier solutions.

How about changes in elevation on the roof? Portions of the rooftop may be higher and/or lower than the roof access point. Such drops in roof elevation can also include narrow walkways, making it that you are always walking or working near a fall hazard. These environments will need careful consideration as there are a mixture of crossover ladders, access ladders, walkways and guardrails that may need to be considered when creating a safe working environment.

Don’t discover safety by accident! Reach out to your rooftop or height safety provider to learn how you can create a safe and compliant rooftop environment.

Choosing the Right Base Plate for Your Rooftop Guardrail System

Choosing the Right Base Plate for Your Rooftop Guardrail System

What is a Base Plate?

Baseplates hold up the guardrail posts of non-penetrating free-standing roof barrier systems that can be used in a temporary and/or permanent installation. Their weight, material, and profile are all considered when looking to protect your flat commercial roof from a fall hazard.

Base Plate For Your Rooftop Guardrail System

Material & Weight

The material and weight of a base plate go hand in hand. You are essentially looking for a base plate made of heavy material to protect you from a potential fall. Otherwise, if the base plates are lightweight, the barrier itself will move with ease when trying to stop you from falling. Especially when considering that the average worker is carrying various heavy tools with them, adding to the stress on the guardrail.

Base plates are commonly made from galvanized steel or powder-coated steel. It’s important to remember that your roof is subject to high winds, rain, and possibly snow, depending on where you live. The base plates are a critical component in creating a safe and compliant guardrail solution; if they are made of a material that degrades over time, you will not be able to guarantee safe passage around the roof. Therefore, you want to ensure your steel base plates are coated with an anti-corrosive layer, also minimizing the potential of rust leaching onto the roof itself and causing damage.

For example, let’s say you were to use heavy paver blocks… With various temperature changes, pavers tend to crack, eliminating the support you once thought you had. It also breaks without warning, only noticeable during your yearly roof safety inspection.

There is no set rule in terms of how heavy a base plate should be. Our standard base plates are either powder coated or galvanized and weigh 40 – 100 lbs each. If you use a cantilever style design where the weighted base plates are extended a few feet from the post, you can use a lighter weight like our 40 lb base plates.

Profile & Design

Above, we talked about base plates potentially damaging the roof. That is correct; if you have a membrane roof you will want to ensure that the steel base plates do not damage the roof. Which is why all of our heavy base plates include a thick rubber mat on the bottom, ensuring your roof remains looking new.

Moving around 100-pound base plates can get quite tiresome. Look out for base plates that include ergonomic handles to help lift and carry them safely across the roof. This is especially important if you are considering a temporary installation.

One of the most underrated features of a base plate is its profile. Our base plates are “low-profile”; they are manufactured slim and wide to reduce any chance of tripping. This is especially important if you are working during the winter months. Fresh snowfall will cover skylights, roof edges, access hatches, ducts, and your base plates. A trip can pose a severe risk of injury.

Can I Interchange Base Plates?

It is not advised to purchase your guardrails from one manufacturer and your base plates from another. Likewise, when looking to replace your base plates, it is best to consult the manufacturer of your guardrail system. They may look like they fit and have a very similar design, although it may not be safe. 

When To Consider a Rooftop Warning Line System Versus a Safety Guardrail

When To Consider a Rooftop Warning Line System Versus a Safety Guardrail

Rooftop Safety
Roof Guardrail

What is a Rooftop Guardrail or Barrier System?

First, let’s start with what is a rooftop guardrail/barrier. Unlike a warning line or bump line system, a guardrail system is intended to prevent roof workers from an injury or fatal fall. A guardrail is a form of fall protection referred to as a roof barrier, protecting personnel working near the roof edge. It comprises of uprights, top rails, mid rails, weighted base plates, and various clamps and screws. Not having a parapet on the roof poses a risk of tools falling to the levels below. In these cases, you will find that some of these roof barrier designs include a toe board.

Roof guardrails are manufactured in various materials and can be either fixed to the roof or non-penetrating, freely standing with a weighted base plate. Both options are permanent solutions, but with the non-penetrating design, you have the flexibility to move the guardrail around the roof with ease. This is becoming a popular solution as it requires minimal on-site setup time, especially if you are looking at our modular RoofBarrier system.

What is a Bump Line or Warning Line System?

Warning barriers and bump lines are intended to visually warn roof workers of a potential rooftop injury or fall. Ultimately, only alerting you not to pass the warning line without additional safety equipment. Bump lines are usually set up around the work area at least 2 meters (6 feet 6 inches) from the hazard. Common hazards would include a nearby roof edge, an open access hatch, and a glass skylight. These systems are commonly made up of uprights, a weighted base plate in order to be freestanding, a chain or rope linking the uprights together, and several high visibility flags that are not too far apart.

When a work area is enclosed, and a bump line is installed in a manner that meets local regulations, the site is considered a safe work environment, enabling personnel to work freely without a permanent guardrail in place. In essence, the warning system acts as a safety perimeter for all those working on the roof. Please note that each region differs in how a bump line should be used, along with how many posts are required for a given length of space. Always refer to your local rooftop safety guidelines or speak to a height safety specialist for more information. Keep in mind that anyone outside the area working less than 2 meters from a hazard must use appropriate fall protection on the rooftop, possibly
requiring a safety system like our RoofBarrier system.

When Should I be Considering a Warning Line System?

Fixed Aluminum Guardrail
RoofLine Series

Warning line systems are traditionally used and designed to access areas of a commercial flat rooftop nearing the roof edge. The bump line system would be placed 2 meters from the roof edge, warning personnel of a nearby hazard. The design, like many permanent guardrail systems, is freestanding. This eliminates the requirement to penetrate the roof, ultimately exposing your building to leaks and extra labor in order to patch the roof.

In many scenarios, the work that is being done on a roof is near the edge. With advancements in building technology, we are finding that roofs are becoming more crowded than ever before. For example, many HVAC units are installed only feet or inches away from the roof edge, with gas lines, ducts and other RTUs taking up most of the space. To maintain those units regularly, building owners must meet safety compliance codes and ensure safe passage to and from the HVAC unit. Along with creating a secure and safe site for maintenance to be done around the HVAC unit. Being so close to the roof edge makes a bump line not feasible and not compliant. Now, what if the HVAC unit is located in the middle of the roof, far away from the roof edge, but the pathway to get to the HVAC unit is hugging the edge of the roof? The HVAC working area itself wouldn’t require a permanent barrier-type solution, enabling the use of a bump line system. However, the pathway itself would need a guardrail on the side nearing the roof edge to ensure a safe and compliant environment.

The Verdict

Whether you’re a building owner, contractor, engineer, consultant, or supplier of safety equipment, we have an obligation to make sure we provide a safe environment for our colleagues, family, and friends to work in. If you are unsure about rooftop safety regulations in your region, it is important that you consult your company’s safety official and/or a third party that has compliance experience. Nobody wants to discover safety by accident!

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