July 2012

What's that smell?

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Protect yourself from personal injury lawsuits related to fumes and vapors

by David M. Gersh
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When you consider your exposure to personal injury lawsuits, you probably think of falls; they continue to be the leading cause of injury and death on construction sites. But some roofing contractors have found themselves on the receiving end of personal injury claims from building occupants or others who allege they have been injured by fumes or vapors emitted from roofing products.

Roofing contractors generally do not consider the materials they use regularly to be hazardous to human health. Many roofing workers use asphalt products, adhesives, coatings, solvents, felts, insulation boards, emulsions and polymer-modified bitumen products daily for years without adverse health effects. Nevertheless, and without any predictable pattern, lawsuits alleging injury from these products are filed, and the claims can reach millions of dollars.

Alleged health effects

Material safety data sheets (MSDSs) applicable to commonly used roofing products describe "worst case" potential adverse health effects that might result from exposure to these products. MSDSs typically describe the health effects that could result from high, intense, concentrated or prolonged exposure to products, not the exposure that occurs during a single roofing project. Additionally, product manufacturers may include the most remote and unlikely potential health hazards associated with exposure to a product on an MSDS to avoid potential legal action resulting from not...

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OSHA hazard information

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