National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) issues safety alert on non-standard timber battens

The National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) has issued a safety alert warning that a large volume of non-standard timber battens has made it onto the UK market. The conflict in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and high demand for treated timber have had a big impact on supplies, allowing substandard battens to slip through.

How does this affect Health & Safety compliance?

Timber battens that don’t meet the required standard of BS 5534 present a safety hazard. They have the potential to cause roof failures, accidents including falls from height which can be fatal and may fail to provide adequate support if the roofer decides to use them as a substitute for a ladder.

What to look out for in a substandard batten

  • Do not depend on the colour or markings on a batten alone. Substandard timber has been found that is marked and coloured as up to spec.
  • Check if the batten is the minimum size as specified by HSG33 Health and Safety in Roof Work. (Minimum size of 50 mm x 25 mm (maximum span 600 mm) or 38 mm x 25mm (maximum span 450 mm).)
  • Look for battens that are clearly smaller than others in the same stack as a marker of substandard timber battens.
  • Look for knots in the grain of the batten. Knots should not be bigger than 38mm or 50mm and should not be visible on both sides of the batten.
  • BS 5534:2014+A2:2018 battens should not rot. If there is evidence of damage, growth or rot on a batten, do not purchase or use it.
  • Documentation proving the battens are up to spec is readily available from the merchant. If not, avoid.

How to be compliant

HSG33 Health and Safety in Roof Work has clear guidance for the use of battens in roof work and the standards that they must adhere to.

“Where slated and tiled roofs are being covered, timber battens might provide a reasonably secure foothold, but only where the following criteria are adhered to and properly supervised:

  • the battens are fixed to rafters set at centres not more than 600 mm apart.
  • the battens are a minimum size of 50 mm x 25 mm (maximum span 600 mm) or 38 mm x 25mm (maximum span 450 mm) and meet the grading requirements specified in BS 5534:2014+A2:2018 Code of practice for slating and tiling and NFRC Technical bulletin 33 Graded battens for slating and tiling; 20
  • the battens are at least 1.2 m long to make sure they span a minimum of three trusses.
  • the battens are fixed only with the recommended nails.
  • the safe system of work dictates that the roofers never deliberately walk on the battens mid-span between the trusses; and
  • the safe system of work dictates that the roofers always walk on the rafter line when installing the tiles and slates.”

Quoted from HSG33 Health and Safety in Roof Work.

Got any questions?

If you’ve got any questions about how this safety alert could affect your business, you can call our Health & Safety advice line any time of the day or night on 0345 844 4848.

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