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Façade access solutions

Mohamed Merchant, Associate Director at TÜV SÜD Dunbar Boardman, talked to PS&AM about best practices in façade access.

Mohamed is an Associate Director at TÜV SÜD Dunbar Boardman, Europe’s leading elevator, escalator and access consultancy. Operating throughout Europe, the Middle East and India, TÜV SÜD Dunbar Boardman is part of TÜV SÜD, one of the world’s leading technical service providers, which has more than 24,000 employees located across over 1,000 locations.

Mohamed has 20 years’ experience in mechanical engineering, including 17 years in the Facade Access Industry. During this time, he has designed and delivered facade access strategies and systems for major developments within the UK, Europe and Middle East, including high rise residential and commercial office developments, retail centres, refurbishment projects, hotels, hospitals and historic buildings.

What are the key safety concerns with façade access and what are the implications if safety is compromised?

Façade access involves window cleaners working at height and strongly relying on training and equipment safety features. The significant hazards associated with building facade maintenance include:

  • fall from heights
  • falling objects and
  • manual handling.

Working conditions will vary from site to site. For example, the UK’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) clearly explores key risks that could impact on the maintenance works. These include height to be negotiated, complexity of the building façade, duration and extent of work, required cleaning frequency (dictated by façade warranties), location, weather conditions, building surface, ground condition, level of cleaning and maintenance activities, etc.

Maintenance personnel are exposed to the hazard of falling from height which is likely to happen when:

  1. Getting into and out of the manned platform, usually because safe access points are not provided;
  2. They are in the manned platforms, due to:
    1. structural failure, or
    2. accidental tipping when the equipment snags on something protruding from the building.

Therefore, where access equipment is prescribed for cleaning and light maintenance, adequate provision must be considered for it to be:

  1. Installed safely;
  2. Accessed safely; and
  3. Used and inspected safely.

Consideration must also be given to:

  1. Dedicated access points;
  2. Dedicated routes to reach the access equipment, which are non-slip and appropriately guarded;
  3. Dedicated inspection and maintenance areas from which operatives can work safely;
  4. Adequate anchorage points properly held down to the permanent structure.

Aside from complying with statutory obligations, there is another equally powerful reason for giving due consideration to safe access. Compromising safety will mean an increased likelihood of:

  • civil action by those who may be affected (through accident or ill health), for example against employers or owners
  • extra time to undertake tasks
  • the need for extra staff to undertake tasks safely
  • extra training
  • managers and operatives cutting corners to minimise the time spent working in adverse conditions
  • omission of maintenance or repair activities
  • extra costs arising from the shortfall in adequate safety provision
  • risk of loss of use
  • extra insurance costs arising from sub-standard provision of safe access.

Are there any common mistakes that people make/what should people be aware of?

The building envelopes or cladding which are larger per square meter than the footprint of the building accounts for up to 25-40% of the building cost. The selection of glazing systems (including materials and surrounds) should be influenced by:

  • Suitable and safe access for cleaning including consideration of any possible inconvenience caused to the building occupants.
  • The ease and cost of replacement of materials.
  • The cleaning cost.

From the point of practical completion, all glazing systems are subject to some degradation with time by the action of the elements and building movement. Therefore, periodic inspection (direct hands on close-up examination) and maintenance works should be carried out systematically. Poor and improper building maintenance will amplify more damages and costly repair works if left unattended. The frequency of façade maintenance and inspection depends on the nature of the glazing material, their condition of exposure and building location. The inspection regime – which involves checking sealant capping, gaskets, etc., should not impair the integrity and performance of the façade system.

Warranties are conditional and bound with exclusivities for example negligence, wear and tear, failure to handle, incorrect installation, etc. The client is responsible to adhere with the clauses within the warranty contract. Inefficient access such as strategies relying on extended reach and wash poles may invalidate warranties. It is therefore important to define the capability of the access options with the client and design team for further investigation before the cleaning and maintenance strategies are finalised.

Generally, access for cleaning is either accounted during design stages or retrofitted in case of existing developments. Challenging scenarios are exposed when the cladding fails post construction. A cladding system’s inability to be dismantled to effect repairs is due to lack of coordination with other key disciplines such as landscape, vertical transportation, etc.

TSDB façade access team have come across situations where a glazing detail has not been thought through in terms of how the glass might be replaced. It is very common to find on internally glazed building that the glass is incapable of being bought into the finished building due to interior components, defeating the object of internal glazing.

Adequate lifting equipment in form of roof mounted BMU, hoist or mobile crane (if access is available), should be provided and precautions taken to avoid damage or injury by falling debris or breakages failing which replacement costs can be extremely high.

What is your best practice advice relating to façade access safety? 

TÜV SÜD Dunbar Boardman is committed to the observance of national and international standards (BS, EN) and are members of the BSI & CTBUH and have Safecontractor registration.

We believe in getting involved at an early conceptual stage through to completion to enable us to enhance the functionality of the space. Using extensive knowledge and understanding of our niche industry, our design integrates the latest technologies resulting in practical, cost effective and holistic strategy whilst satisfying the architects and the client aspirations.

We work directly with developers, building owners, asset managers, architects, contractors and local authorities and apply our knowledge of the latest innovations and advances in the facade access industry to help make cutting edge architecture possible.

From iconic developments to Residential and Commercial buildings, transportation hubs, retail centres and health or educational campuses, TÜV SÜD Dunbar Boardman Façade Access specialists are capable of delivering access solution which will maximise the value of new and existing developments.

Why are building facades so important?

Architecture is evolving rapidly with convoluted building envelopes and its maintainability is one of the key aspects when detailing the iconic façade. Economical and effective maintenance of the facade is a prime concern in the overall design concept.

The development of a Façade Access solution is a long-term process and the building maintenance strategy will be ongoing over the life of the building. Façade cleaning and maintenance has dramatically changed using bespoke systems blended within the tight operating space whilst meeting the ever-increasing demand for replacing façade panels and plant components during the service life of the development.

Façade access is highly specialised and niche industry with very limited expertise on global scale and sector-wide experience within the construction industry. TÜV SÜD Real Estate excels in innovative design and consultancy services across a wide variety of sectors, including Retail, Commercial, Leisure, Healthcare, Education, Industrial and Residential. We have a wealth of experience working on an enviable portfolio of projects from small scale to major iconic developments. The specialist consulting team can ensure that the form (design) meets the desired function (operations).

Our consultancy team combines profound technical expertise with a real estate perspective that means our advice is always focused on broader objectives. The unbiased and transparent approach allows our specialist team to interact with the client and project management team during early design phases thereby benefiting the project in efficient engineered solution. With great depth of knowledge from the number and variety of projects we work each year and frequent interaction with equipment manufacturers offers building owners advise on best practice and reduce early design risks whilst utilizing ‘lessons learned from past’ and the ability to problem solve faster with precision.

How important is it for you to be involved at the very start of planning a Stadium new build or renovation project?

The best time for designers to consider work at height is during the early stages of the design: how it can be minimized and carried out in a manner that provides an appropriate level of safety.

Where work at height is taken into account later in the design process, there is a greater likelihood of there being difficulties in making adequate provision for access and inclusion of access equipment. There is potential for poorer detailing and additional cost resulting from redesign, structural alterations and inappropriate access arrangements that increase lifetime costs.

Designers should communicate the access strategy with the management and lead design team, using drawings, sketches, written schedules and specifications in an agreed format. Information should be provided in a format that is clear to the user and focuses on the significant health and safety risks present.

Where hazards cannot be eliminated, suitable control measures should be incorporated to manage the risks associated with these hazards to an acceptable level; this relates to the construction process, operation, maintenance, and cleaning of the building.