Facility managers understand the damage that storms can inflict upon a roof. Many, however, are not as aware of an equally destructive force.

When it comes to mistreating a roof, one of the most common culprits is foot traffic; personnel walking the roof during inspections or while installing or servicing HVAC units, antennas, and other building envelope maintenance that requires rooftop access. Many facility managers significantly underestimate both the amount of foot traffic their roof gets and the resulting toll if proper precautions are not taken.

At minimum, work boots can leave trails of dirt and scuffs on a white membrane, reducing its reflectivity and, therefore, its “cool roof” benefits. More seriously, dropped tools, carelessly moved equipment, and even displaced stone ballast can puncture or tear the membrane, causing leaks.

It is not unusual to see debris ranging from screws, shards of sheet metal and empty canisters left on roofs after a repair visit. Small debris can cut into the roof if the debris is stepped on; large debris will work its way into the roof membrane during the hot months of the year. Service crews that don’t have expertise in proper roof navigation can wreak havoc on flashings which get kicked, punctured with tools and machinery, and have mechanical equipment run up against them.

Owners contribute to the early demise of their own roofs by not properly maintaining them and failing to repair small problems, before they become big ones. Foot traffic control is a best practice. Access to the roof should be restricted to necessary personnel. Maintaining an activity log creates a valuable record of who has been on the roof, when, and for what purpose.

Walkways should be provided to and around rooftop equipment that requires regular service — and they should be used. Care should be taken with tools and equipment to avoid gouging or puncturing the membrane. And when it is necessary to stray from walkways, extra caution should be exercised; ice and frost may not be visible on a white membrane, and all membranes are slippery when wet. Facility managers should adhere to these guidelines and remind their teams and vendors to follow them as well.

Many facility managers will try schedule their rooftop equipment maintenance within a particular time frame so upon completion they can have their roof contractor provide a routine inspection of the roof and proactively take care of any damage that may be a result of collateral damage of excess foot traffic.