Daniel Betts of engineering contractor ECEX discusses the importance of constructing safe access ways, and how this can even prevent health risks such as Legionnaire's Disease.

When it comes to purpose-built water systems such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers and water storage tanks, the consequences of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease can be catastrophic. Lives may be lost, fines and legal fees may be crippling and damage to employee morale and public image may be irreparable.

The prevention of such an outbreak will be entirely dependent on the implementation of an efficient maintenance and testing regime by appropriately qualified engineers and operatives. But what happens when safe access for those maintaining and testing water systems is not possible?

While the stated maintenance and safety practices for a building may appear comprehensive, it is relatively common for those in charge to overlook a basic requirement for the maintenance and inspection of water systems.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended) state that: ‘You must ensure that the place where work is done at height (including the means of access) is safe and has features to prevent a fall (unless this would mean that it is not reasonably practicable for the worker to carry out the work safely).’

These regulations apply to all work in which there is a risk of falling that is liable to cause injury. To put this into context, working atop a water storage tank without a sufficient access ladder or means of fall prevention such as guard railing, represents a direct contravention of Health and Safety Executive regulations.

Safe access platforms, ladders, gantries and edge protection are all basic elements of an onsite maintenance plan. Without a safe route of access across a site, engineers and operatives are at risk of injury through slips, trips and falls – and if maintenance staff are unable to safely access the building’s plant, they will be unable to maintain it effectively. Without effective maintenance, the building’s plant is at risk of breakdown or, in the case of purpose-built water systems, the building’s occupants could be at risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease and other water-borne ailments.

As a specialist provider of metalwork fabrication services, ECEX can call upon more than 20 years of experience in providing solutions to a wide range of safe access needs.