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Examples of Risk & Method

This example from HSE shows the difficulties that are presented when having guttering cleared at commercial sites

Case Study – Gutter cleaning / Clearing


An employer owns a medium sized industrial unit employing 10 people. Plastic guttering at the roof edge had become blocked by loose leaves causing water to overflow and cause localised flooding within the yard. This in turn flowed into the factory causing damage to stock. The guttering is 5m above the floor and the asbestos cement roof is sloping and has skylights, all of which are fragile materials.

Risk assessment/planning and organisation

When planning the work the employer considered the access equipment, the staff he had available and the conditions of the site. He had a ladder, a step ladder and a fork lift truck equipped with a working platform which was available for exceptional use only, ie for non-routine tasks. He had some 17 year old trainees and a couple of employees in their thirties who were more mature and experienced. The back of the unit had sloping ground which made access to the roof difficult. Parts of the external perimeter were used for storage and there were other obstructions such as a gas cylinder storage cage and a compressor shed.
The employer, while planning the work, asked himself whether the gutters could be cleaned without working at height. The gutters were quite deep so obstructions could not be seen from ground level. This meant that access to height was needed, otherwise a long rake could have been used from ground level.
The employer asked himself if he could utilise an existing place of work. There were no existing access routes to the roof. There was no access from inside the factory and no walkways on the edge of the roof with protective floor coverings or edge protection.
The owner decided how best he could carry out the work. If someone climbed onto the roof he could access all the guttering. Perhaps one of the 17 year old trainees would have been agile enough to climb onto the roof from a ladder. He immediately discounted this idea as there would be nothing to stop someone falling off the roof edge or through it.
He assessed the existing work equipment he had at his disposal. His stepladder was not high enough. Someone would have to stand on the upper rungs and would have no handholds. His two stage ladder was high enough, but he was worried that if it was leaned against the gutter the gutter could break. He was also worried that there would be a tendency by the user to overreach to save relocating the ladder as often. The working platform for use with his fork-lift truck would have provided safe access to about one third of the perimeter where there was good flat ground with no obstructions. This did not solve the problem with the sloping ground, the compressor shed or the cylinder store. Some pallets could have been removed, but this would have taken time and would have been disruptive to both deliveries and production.


Having assessed the conditions and the equipment he had available he decided to hire a small cherry picker type Mobile Elevated Work Platform (MEWP), which could also be used for other work at height tasks within and around the unit. This overcame the sloping ground problem because it could be located on flat stable ground beyond the slope and its reach overcame the other obstructions. One of his more mature and experienced employees received instruction from the hirer and safe access was provided from the basket for cleaning the gutters around the entire unit.
How was this solution reached?

The employer’s risk assessment showed that the work needed to be carried out at height as the task could not be carried out from ground level.

  1. The roof was made of a fragile material and had no edge protection and so was not safe to work from. This meant that some kind of work equipment needed to be used.
  2. The work equipment available to the employer was not suitable – it would not have been safe to work from either the stepladder or the two-stage ladder, and the fork-lift truck and working platform could not cope with the sloping ground and obstructions around parts of the industrial unit.
  3. The employer’s risk assessment concluded that hiring a MEWP was the safest way of carrying out the job. This would not only be able to cope with the variety of surfaces in the area, but also provided a flat, level and stable surface from which to perform the task. The MEWP also had the added advantage of being able to perform other ad hoc tasks in and around the unit if necessary, thus reducing overall costs.