Covid has seen the way we live and work change dramatically over the past year. The growing need for remote working, an increase in cloud services and high demand for data management and digital communication services such as videoconferencing have contributed to the current boom in the data centre sector.
The data centre market in the Middle East remained buoyant during 2020 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7% by 2026. This growth is largely being driven by smart city initiatives in the UAE and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
This is positive news for the region, but we must make sure that safety is not compromised in the drive to meet this demand for high quality digital connectivity. So, whether it’s a new construction or retrofit, the safety of employees and contractors must be an integral part of the design and running of the data centre.
Ensuring the continuous, smooth running of data centres
Data centres are complex facilities. The technical equipment inside a centre is extremely sensitive to temperature and moisture so environmental control is essential, as is ensuring continuous power. Any outage could cost a company millions of dollars.
This means that data centres require a variety of systems and equipment to ensure continuous operation. These include ventilation and cooling systems, UPS (uninterruptable power supplies), generators and cabling.
As most of these will be situated on the roof, access will be required by engineers and contractors to carry out regular inspections, maintenance and emergency repair work, so safe access onto and across the roof is vital.
Assessing the risks on data centre rooftops
Work at height is one of the main causes of occupational fatalities and serious injuries. Anyone responsible for the design and construction of a building or for planning and managing work at the premises has a duty of care to make sure that the work can be carried out safely.
Whether it’s a new build or rebuild, each building is unique so a thorough rooftop risk assessment must be carried out to identify hazards and determine where workers are exposed to the greatest risk.
Once the hazards have been identified, measures can be put in place to protect people on your rooftops.
Always follow the hierarchy of fall protection
Following the hierarchy of fall protection is the best way to ensure the safety of workers on data centre rooftops.
1. Eliminate the need for work at height.
2. When this is not possible, consider collective measures such as guardrails. These have the benefit of protecting everyone on a roof.
3. If collective systems are not possible then use personal protective equipment in the form of restraint lines to prevent the user reaching a fall risk or hazard.
4. Finally, if all other options are not suitable, fall arrest systems can be used to arrest a person if they fall.
What to consider when selecting a fall protection system?
When selecting a fall protection system, you need to make sure that it will reduce the working at height risks and that it is the right solution for your site.
Many fall protection systems have to be fixed directly to the roof structure. That requires drilling holes in the roof and can lead to potential water damage during installation. These types of systems are not suitable for data centres, as any water ingress is a big issue for this sector.
Fee standing fall protection systems are the best option for critical infrastructures like data centres. Kee Safety provides free standing fall protection systems based on a simple cantilevered design, which delivers unrivalled strength, stability and safety, and does not penetrate the roof membrane.
Kee Safety's non-penetrating fall protection solutions
• Non-penetrating systems - no roof leaks
• Counterbalance engineering for maximum strength
• No welding, bending or threading of tube - fast and simple installation on site
• Suit phased works - additional phases can be added and connected later
• Deliver reliable fall protection
• Comply with EN ISO 14122 and OSHA standards
Free standing roof top guardrails
Edge protection such as guardrails is the preferred option for unprotected edges as they safeguard workers on the roof at all times and avoid the need for training.
The main benefit for data centres offered by roof guardrails is that they can be free standing. It means they simply sit on the roof and don’t require fixing through the roof’s membrane. This can compromise the roof’s integrity and cause costly leakages and dust problems for the sensitive areas below the roof.
Roof access platforms and step overs
Data centre rooftops contain a variety of trip hazards. Changes in level, M&E equipment and obstacles such as pipework, cable trays and conduits can make a simple maintenance task dangerous if the worker has to navigate around or over these hazards.
Roof access platforms and step overs are simple but effective ways to provide a safe route over an obstacle or to a different roof level. As with the free standing guardrail systems, access platforms and step overs can sit securely on the roof without the need to penetrate the roof membrane.
Working with you to protect data centre rooftops
Kee Safety recently worked with a leading global digital infrastructure company to allow safe access onto one of its data centre roofs. The facility’s roof had 5 sections, 3 were membrane roofs and 2 were sandwich panels which meant the chosen solution needed to work with both roof types.
Both standard guardrail and lifeline systems were ruled out in the early stage of the project, as there were concerns about the weight of the standard guardrail with steel tube on the roof sections, while the roof structure would have to be penetrated during installation of the lifeline. The potential risk of water leakage and dust contamination was too great for the extremely sensitive environment below.
The solution was the installation of a free standing roof top guardrail with an aluminium tube. The simple counterbalance construction provided collective protection without compromising the roof membrane.
Our in-depth loading calculations were able to confirm that using aluminium tubing would reduce the overall weight of the system to an acceptable level. See more details of this project.
Training and competency are essential when working at height
Employers, facilities managers, building owners, contractors and anyone else who is responsible for the premises has a duty to protect people working at height on the roof and can be held responsible if an accident occurs.
The duty to safeguard people working on a data centre rooftop does not end once a safety system or equipment has been installed. Individuals responsible for the building and the safety of others, are legally required to make sure that work at height is properly planned, supervised and carried out by a competent and properly trained person.
Training and competency should not be limited to those actually doing the task, but also anyone responsible for the organisation, planning or supervision of the work.
If you are contracting a company to carry out maintenance or repairs on your rooftop, always ask for proof of training for each individual contractor to ensure they are all fully trained.
Always make safety a priority
Data centres are big business. But that doesn’t mean safety should be compromised as the sector strives to build a bigger and better digital infrastructure. Safety should always be a priority.
Providing a safe environment will reduce the risk of a costly accident, increase uptime and help to reduce operational costs.
Kee Safety - your fall protection experts
Kee Safety is a global provider of workplace health and safety solutions and advice. We are committed to protecting our customers by providing expert project guidance and support, safety education and the best solution for your unique requirements. We offer our customers a complete service from site surveys and technical advice, through to design and installation.
Please contact one of our qualified Fall Protection Experts to discuss your project or schedule a roof top survey.