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Keeping hospital roofs healthy

Keeping hospital roofs healthy

With the budgets of healthcare facilities under increasing pressure, roof maintenance and repairs are commonly addressed reactively as issues occur. Here Tom Kerr, Sales Director at Langley Waterproofing Systems looks at how taking a proactive long-term approach to maintaining flat roofs will help facilities managers maximise budgets, achieve cost certainty and manage their estate more effectively.



In healthcare environments the primary focus will always be patient care, welfare and comfort. As such, expenditure will often be focused on any immediately tangible benefit, for example, equipment and staff. The Estate plays a key role in patient care, however, with backlog maintenance now estimated at a minimum of £5.5bn, it has built up throughout the NHS Estates and is now at a critical point. The Naylor Review on ‘How the Estate Matters For Patients’ gives an insight as to how the transformation of an NHS Estate could benefit patients. Over years and due to real term reduced budgets, reactive maintenance has become the only feasible way for many Trusts to operate - for this reason, roofs are often only considered when a problem develops.


To minimise the risk of costly and potentially disruptive issues occurring, a roof should be viewed as an asset and managed in the same way as any other that the hospital owns. In its most basic sense asset management is the process of introducing, operating, maintaining and then upgrading an asset. This can only be carried out effectively if the process is carefully planned and the status of each roof area is understood and monitored.


Easily accessible data is a crucial element of managing any estate. Without good data any long term strategic approach is unattainable and the management of the estate budget is rendered a purely reactive one. The creation of an asset management plan will allow Estate Vision and Strategy to be achieved, but critical to this is the collation of data. Starting with a full site condition survey, in which each roof area is assessed, allows for an in-depth condition report to be built. This will detail the roofing systems that have been used, their current condition, the repairs already made and any immediate or recent concerns. Core samples, moisture readings and photography will be used to build up a comprehensive picture of the condition of each area. It will also identify any sections that need urgent work, and those that do not. From this a long-term maintenance and repair plan can be formulated in partnership with a roofing systems specialist, which allows all repairs and refurbishments to be addressed in order of priority. There are three primary areas of a roof asset management plan; condition, cost and compliance.



A roof is a significant hidden asset and despite how it may appear, a roof will very rarely fail without warning. Most often the problem has been developing over time and with the right monitoring in place, could have been caught before it reached a critical stage. An assessment of all the roof areas and the establishment of an asset management plan will help to ensure that defects are identified and rectified before they begin to undermine the structure of the roof.


For example, a typical modern flat roofing system is made up of a layer of insulation with membranes above and below. If the waterproofing layer fails, it leads to potentially extensive amounts of water being trapped within the internal layers. Untreated, the condition of the system will continue to degrade until the water begins leaking into the occupied areas of the building. When this happens, repairs will need to be immediate in order to patch and repair the offending area. Whilst the intention is positive, these emergency repairs are unlikely to have addressed the underlying issue and the problem will often return. In fact, it may not have cured the business-critical problem at all, due to the fact that the trapped water continues to leak for weeks or months, even after the original source of entry into the system has been addressed. 



In addition to the disruption caused by repeated reactive fixes, it is also more costly in the long run. Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) can find and fix relatively minor defects before they develop into more serious issues. Also, when a roof begins to leak there is not only the cost to rectify the defect but also the damage that the water ingress has caused to the fabric of the building.


The maintenance backlog on NHS sites was one of the issues raised in the Naylor Review. In the government’s response to the report, it acknowledged that “reducing backlog maintenance not only provides a safer and higher quality estate, but reduces running costs in the longer term.”


Asset management plans provide building owners and facilities managers with a costed, 25-year maintenance programme that is aligned to the projected budget and provides a clear view of what is needed and when. This helps to plan and manage budgets more effectively and minimise the risk of sudden or unexpected costs occurring. In effect, at the start of each financial year, facilities managers will know what work is likely to be required, so it can be factored in accordingly. In addition, having accurate and clear data on the whole of the estate and buildings allows Estate Strategies and Visions to be created robustly. 



Finally, as part of the survey and subsequent inspections the roof areas will be checked to ensure full compliance with Health and Safety and Building Regulations. Flat roof areas may need to be accessed to carry out maintenance of roof top equipment such as air conditioning plant and ventilation systems. As such, building owners and managers have a duty of care to ensure walkways and access systems are maintained correctly to provide safe access for people working on the roof. The asset management plans will identify any potential hazards such as fragile roofs as well as the presence and condition of safety measures like guard rails and fall arrest systems in line with the requirements set out in Approved Document K: Protection from falling, collision and impact. 


Part L (Thermal Efficiency) compliance will also be looked at within the survey by core sampling and calculating the thermal efficiency of the roof. Figures from Carbon Trust estimate that 22% of heat loss is through the roof area - with some hospitals falling outside the current requirements with regards to thermal performance set out in Part L, there are significant savings to be made on heating costs by upgrading the roof insulation.


Furthermore, a site condition survey should include a full assessment of the level of compliance with regards to fire for each area of the roof. For example, it will assess whether the roof meets the external spread of flame requirements set out in Approved Document B. This is vital when it comes to patient care in the event of fire and particularly prevalent where buildings have plant and machinery on the roof, where a failure in the machinery could potentially cause fire. 


Where any recommendations for repair or replacement are required, a survey and subsequent specification for remedial works will also pinpoint any areas where it would be unsafe to use flame applied systems and therefore ensure work can be carried out safely. This is an important part of the National Federation of Roofing Contractors’ (NFRC) Safe2Torch initiative. It aims to reduce the risk of fire caused by unsafe practices. 


Benefits of planning

The creation of a full asset management plan alongside regular, planned inspections will help ensure issues are identified before they compromise the integrity of the roof. It will also allow managers to sequence work to achieve maximum efficiency. For example if Mechanical and Engineering (M+E) works are undertaken, will the roof require replacement in the life of the M+E, therefore creating downtime and cost to temporarily remove the machinery?


The service supplied by Langley Waterproofing Systems provides facilities managers with the knowledge they need to budget repair and maintenance effectively, which is crucial where resources are under pressure. A partnership with the right supplier provides access to expert advice and peace of mind that unexpected costs and disruption have been minimised.