A bit too far

A recent OSHA bulletin confuses the issue of using bonding adhesives for roofing applications

From time to time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes Safety and Health Information Bulletins (SHIBs); these bulletins are advisory in nature and not standards or regulations. They are intended to help employers provide safe, healthful workplaces without creating new legal obligations. In April, OSHA issued SHIB 03-13-2014, which focuses on alleged fire hazards that may result from using a certain type of spreader of flammable bonding adhesives used in roof system installations. OSHA states using the device listed in the bulletin does not meet its requirements for dispensing flammable liquids.


The OSHA bulletin was a result of a job-site inspection conducted by the agency's Region 1, Concord, N.H., office. Bonding adhesives used in the roofing industry for adhering single-ply membranes often meet the definition of a flammable liquid—generally a liquid with a flash point of 199.4 F or lower. Adhesives can be rolled, brushed or sprayed onto a roof surface or membrane. The OSHA bulletin cites "dolly-type roller devices" do not meet OSHA's requirements for spreading flammable liquids.

The spreader is designed to allow application of adhesive directly from an original 5-gallon container onto a roller that spreads the adhesive as a worker moves the equipment along a roof's surface. OSHA states the manufacturer's instructions advise applicators to place the container horizontally on the device's cradle and punch holes along the center to allow the contents to flow through the holes onto the roller that spreads it along the surface. According to the agency, punching holes nullifies the container's approval because it does not comply with requirements for dispensing flammable liquids under 29 CFR 1926.152(e).

In addition, OSHA says using a metal punch or drill to put holes in a metal adhesive container can produce sparks or heat sufficient to ignite the container's contents. Apparently relying on sections 152(a) and (e), OSHA notes these containers do not have an "approved shut-off or self-closing latch or valve." According to OSHA, if a fire were to occur, workers would have no way of closing off the flow of adhesive adding fuel to the fire, putting them at risk of being "trapped on the rooftop with only a limited number of exits."

OSHA offers the following precaution: "If a flammable liquid adhesive is used, ensure that it is drawn from containers and spread onto the rooftop with an approved closed system/device (no leaks of flammable liquid or vapor). Such a device would draw flammable liquids from containers or portable tanks by gravity or by using an approved pump. The device must have an approved self-closing latch or valve and a means for safely removing static electricity. …"


Although the OSHA bulletin contains useful information about the avoidance of fire while using flammable bonding adhesives (such as refraining from actions that may produce heat and sparks, eliminating sources of ignition such as open flames, using nonsparking tools and minimizing static electricity by wearing cotton work clothes) its reliance on regulatory provisions in 152(a) and (e) as support for its recommendations for handling bonding adhesives is confusing.

OSHA states flammable liquids must be dispensed from a closed system or approved container with an approved shut-off or self-closing latch or valve. According to 152(e)(3), flammable liquids must be drawn from or transferred into vessels, containers or tanks only through a closed piping system; from safety cans by a device drawing the liquid from the top; or by gravity or a pump through an approved self-closing valve. This is a section under the heading "Dispensing liquids" rather than a requirement under 152(f) more suitably titled "Handling liquids at point of final use," and seems to provide for equipment and procedures that are unsuitable and inapplicable to the final use of the product.

Section 152(e) addresses measures to be taken in areas where flammable liquids in quantities in excess of 5 gallons are transferred from one tank or container to another tank or container at one time; are drawn from or transferred into vessels, containers or tanks; or transferred from one container to another. The restrictions on dispensing flammable liquids in 152(e) are not present in the language of 152(f) that applies to the handling of flammable liquids at the point of final use, such as applying a bonding adhesive.

OSHA also cites 29 CFR 1926.152(a), which addresses general requirements for handling flammable liquids, as authority for this bulletin. The section requires flammable liquids in quantities of 5 gallons or less to be handled and used in approved safety cans or Department of Transportation-approved containers, but the requirement does not apply to flammable liquids that are highly viscid (thick or difficult to pour). Such materials (for example, bonding adhesives) may be used in their original shipping containers under OSHA's regulatory language. Referring to the safety can requirements of 152(a)(1) for a self-closing latch and means of removing static electricity when using bonding adhesive ignores the section's plain language applicable to highly viscid materials.

To follow the logic of the OSHA SHIB would mean all 5-gallon containers of bonding adhesive could only be emptied at the point of use by first attaching an approved shut-off or self-closing latch to the container so flow could be stopped in the event of a fire. Similarly, requiring flammable liquids be drawn from containers using an "approved closed system" appears to be a requirement more appropriately applicable to industrial settings where closed piping systems are integrated into storage or dispensing facilities. OSHA mentions power rollers or spraying equipment as examples of closed systems that do not contain all product vapors within the unit. Such systems would appear to be of minimal value during the application process because bonding adhesive is exposed to the environment once it is applied to a roof system's surface.

The end result

NRCA is concerned the OSHA SHIB misconstrues the regulatory language of Subpart F and imposes new restrictions that have not been subjected to scrutiny afforded by the typical rulemaking process.

Although the bulletin provides some useful information about avoiding ignition sources while working with flammable bonding adhesives, other controls suggested, such as closed piping systems and self-closing latches on 5-gallon shipping containers, appear to be ill-advised. The SHIB's suggested precautions should be subjected to analysis from experts such as those with experience in the requirements of National Fire Protection Association's NFPA 1 Fire Code, manufacturers and other suitable resources. NRCA plans to further investigate the issue and report the results of its findings.

Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of risk management.



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