Collective v personal protection: which is best for your roof?

Posted 12 Jun 2019

When it comes to roof edge protection, and keeping those who access your roof as safe as possible, there are two main solutions you might consider.

Guardrail is perhaps the most common solution, due to the fact that it is considered collective protection, or ‘non-user participant’. This means that it will remain effective even without workers being trained in its use, making it a great ‘catch-all’ system. A guardrail around the perimeter of the building, if properly maintained and recertified, will protect anyone who accesses the roof, no matter their training or experience.


The alternative solution, lifelines, are considered personal protection, meaning they are ‘user participant’. These systems are only effective when the user is attached to them via a harness and lanyard. User participant systems should only be utilised by someone fully trained in their use.


Whilst both systems have their uses, the best system for you will depend on a number of factors.


What should you choose?

According to the work at height hierarchy, collective protection systems such as guardrail are preferred to personal systems. The simplicity of these systems mean that anyone can access the roof and be immediately protected, without the need to clip onto another system.


The less complex design of guardrail systems also mean that they are less prone to failure than lifeline systems, and the non-user participant nature of the system ensures that everyone accessing the roof will be protected, including those without training or even those who have accessed the roof without permission.

However, personal systems such as lifelines do have their place. For example, your roof area may be too small to install a properly effective guardrail system, or the design of it may make a guardrail system impractical. In this situation, a lifeline system would likely be safer and more effective.


Lifelines may also be preferable to guardrail is if your building is listed, or if aesthetics are of importance to you. In this case, an obvious guardrail system around the perimeter of the building might be intrusive. Lifelines are invisible from the ground and do not impact the look of your building.


However, it is worth noting that lifelines need to be properly secured into the roof surface, whereas guardrail can be installed in a non-penetrative fashion, such as with the KeeGuard system, which uses heavy counterweights and does not need to be drilled into the roof. If avoiding damage to your roof is a top concern, a non-intrusive guardrail system will be preferable.


Another important point to consider is the height of your building. Lifelines can work in either ‘fall arrest’ or ‘fall restraint’ modes. Fall arrest systems will usually incorporate a shock absorber with a longer lanyard, which will allow you to approach the edge of the building and arrest your fall should one occur. Restraint systems will prevent you from reaching the edge of the building in any way, negating the chance of a fall.

Depending on the distance between the top of the building and the ground, or any obstacles beneath, a fall arrest system may not be suitable, as there may not be enough clearance for the system to arrest the fall.


A fall restraint system might suit your needs better, but these are often restrictive depending on the type of work. Depending on how much freedom the worker accessing the roof will need to carry out the job, a guardrail might be your best bet.

The long term

It is important to remember that, according to the Work at Height Regulations, both systems must be inspected and recertified annually by a competent third party, so both systems are a long-term investment. Whichever system you choose, it should be based on the needs of your roof and the work that needs to be carried out, rather than a financial decision.


For advice on the best system for your needs, or if you would like us to carry out a site survey so we can provide a personalised solution, call us on 01473 834 144, or use our online contact form.

Related posts:
Fall arrest v fall restraint

by Carolyn Campbell

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