Safety is no accident

Fall protection, I2P2, silica and asphalt fumes—there is no shortage of concerns

2011 proved to be a year of fits and starts for safety and health-related issues affecting the roofing industry. There is no shortage of items the various government agencies and research entities have on their agendas that can directly affect you. The main issues in 2012 are how you can comply with the regulations already in effect and how the regulations being developed might evolve.

Residential fall protection

The debate continues to rage regarding how roofing contractors performing steep-slope roofing work should protect workers from falls.

In December 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new residential fall-protection directive with new requirements effective June 16, 2011. As a result of an outcry by the homebuilding and roofing industries, including a failed lawsuit by NRCA, OSHA issued another directive to delay implementation until Sept. 16, 2011.

However, as a result of continued industry outcry, pressure from Congress and a congressional hearing addressing the matter, OSHA again acquiesced to delay full compliance with the directive until March 15, 2012.

There are issues with the directive. First, it requires workers to be protected using only conventional fall-protection methods. In other words, now only one of three conventional approaches can be used: personal fall-arrest systems, guardrails with toe-board systems and safety net systems. The ability to use slide guards (roof jacks with 2- by 6-inch planks) is restricted to those jobs where a contractor creates a site-specific fall-protection plan describing why conventional methods cause greater hazards or are infeasible to use.

Second, OSHA has stated that, among other things, a key to making directive changes is to simplify what is deemed as confusion in the roofing industry regarding the old slide-guard directive. So its response has been to delay implementation to give contractors time to understand and implement the new one. If the new directive is simpler, it would not be such a burden to understand. But it has become a burden on a number of fronts.

Contractors report making the decision to convert to what is commonly referred to as 100 percent fall protection (using one of the three conventional methods) may be appropriate for some roofing companies and projects, but it is not appropriate for all. In fact, contractors want options because there is no regularity from job to job with regard to fall protection.

The factors that decide the best fall protection to use typically are based on a combination of slope, the type of system being applied and ground-to-eave height.

NRCA and its members recognize falls are a hazard of great concern and ensuring a safe work environment must be the top priority for all contractors. However, work must be performed on roofs, and the way to minimize falls is to appropriately assess the risk.

For example, as roof slope increases, the fall-protection method changes because the walking and working surface changes from one that is considered walkable to one that is not. The same logic applies to eave height and the type of roof system being installed. It is anything but simple, so the elimination of options that previously worked in many circumstances has caused confusion where it didn't exist before.

Third, OSHA's response to date has been slide guards and safety monitors still are useable options but contractors first must demonstrate in writing that conventional methods are infeasible or will create a greater hazard.

OSHA has stated infeasibility is "when it is technologically impossible to do what a standard requires or when following the standard would prevent performance of the work in question." A greater hazard is established by "demonstrating that the hazards created by compliance with a standard are greater than those created by noncompliance." For such a showing, a contractor must develop a site-specific fall-protection plan satisfying 10 elements.

Writing and complying with all tenets of a fall-protection plan are not easy to do. The fall-protection plan must be written by a qualified person (holding a degree and/or having appropriate experience or training); be implemented by a competent person (one who knows the rules and has the authority to enforce them); be site-specific; explain why conventional fall protection creates a greater hazard or is infeasible; and describe why alternative measures are appropriate, as well as other requirements. Given the one- to two-day timeframe for most steep-slope jobs and the hours-long timeframe for repair jobs, this is a paperwork nightmare.

Fourth, permission to write a plan is limited to what OSHA terms "residential construction." According to OSHA, residential construction combines two elements—both of which must be satisfied for a project to fall under that provision: the end use of the structure being built must be a home, and the structure being built must be constructed using traditional wood frame construction materials and methods (though the limited use of structural steel in a predominately wood-reamed home, such as a steel I-beam to help support wood framing, doesn't disqualify a structure from being considered residential construction).

By virtue of this definition, NRCA contractor members estimate 50 percent of steep-slope jobs are precluded from the fall-protection plan option. Therefore, the ability to use slide guards and safety monitors as part of a site-specific fall-protection plan, for example, is forbidden on about half the jobs where they could be viable options for protecting workers. How is this less confusing?

The fifth issue is the enforcement of the directive during this most recent extension. In its attempt to give roofing contractors time to comply, OSHA states that if a compliance officer visits a residential construction roofing project and the contractor is using slide guards properly, it will not issue a citation on the first visit. The compliance officer will help the contractor understand how to comply with the new directive, but if the officer visits another job site in the future where the new directive is not being implemented, a citation will result.

In December 2011, NRCA sent a letter to OSHA officials offering alternative language for steep-slope fall protection; we have not yet received a response.

The bottom line for steep-slope roofing: Fall protection just became more complicated because there are fewer options and OSHA has hamstrung a roofing contractor's ability to choose the best method(s) of providing fall protection given the fall hazard at hand.


The basic idea behind OSHA's Injury Illness Prevention Program (I2P2), otherwise known as the safety program standard, is every construction contractor will be required to have a written, active safety program. Although not without its detractors, there is a lot of support for this concept from employers and employees. NRCA generally agrees contractors should have written safety programs; however, where the support begins to divide is the level of detail and involvement that would be required.

There are six areas OSHA states it is considering as tenets for this standard. According to OSHA, most successful injury and illness prevention programs are based on a common set of key elements. These include leadership management; worker participation; hazard identification; hazard prevention and control; education and training; and program evaluation and improvement.

NRCA supports the standard's concept. In fact, in an OSHA grant NRCA was awarded in 2009, NRCA staff developed and provided training for what a comprehensive safety program could look like based on these areas.

NRCA's safety program has three components: active management commitment, a safety committee and toolbox talks.

A safety committee should include at a minimum an owner, senior management, middle management and field staff. All members should have the chance to direct the committee's activity and have equal voice to express concern and ideas for improvement.

In lieu of more formalized training, toolbox talks are a great place to start for getting key safety messages and policies quickly communicated to employees. More informal and formal training efforts, as well as policies and procedures, can expand from there as it becomes apparent what hazards need to be addressed to protect workers given the systems being installed and projects' requirements.

OSHA's and NRCA's approaches are not that different. However, the divergence comes in how far OSHA should go to regulate the required components versus a contractor's ability to implement a program that meets his or her current needs and ability to properly institute a formal program. A safety plan is best implemented in an organic way—it should flow from the recognized safety needs, not the need for a safety program. By allowing a program to grow through the organization, there's more buy-in, better communication of needs and an ability to adapt to job nuances.

At one point, it appeared as though the I2P2 standard was on the fast track to implementation; however, it doesn't seem it will get much traction this year, either.


The OSHA silica standard has been a controversial one for many years. There are those who agree it is outdated, namely that the permissible exposure limit is difficult to measure and meet (because it is based mainly on an obsolete testing method), and there are others who believe it is outdated and useless, leaving exposed workers dangerously unprotected.

Currently, this proposed standard is being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB); it has been there for months. It is not known what the holdup is, but there is speculation pressure from the business community is having an effect. Once OMB releases the standard, OSHA will respond to any issues raised. Assuming the issues are reasonable, the proposed standard will be published in the Federal Register with a schedule for public comments. The regulatory process does not tend to move quickly, so most likely there will not be a new standard published in 2012.

Asphalt fumes

For years, the asphalt-using industries diligently have been researching, meeting with asphalt scientists and regulators throughout the world, and preparing for the International Agency for Research on Cancer's (IARC's) review of asphalt, or bitumen. The review occurred in October 2011, and the agency's finding was less than satisfying, creating more questions than answers.

IARC is an agency of the United Nation's World Health Organization headquartered in Lyon, France. One of IARC's missions is the preparation of monographs, which are scientific evaluations of the published scientific literature addressing the agent's potential carcinogenicity (ability to cause cancer in humans). IARC convened a working group of scientists, specialists and observers during an eight-day period to attempt to reach consensus on an evaluation of bitumen's carcinogenicity based on decades of research.

At the end of the eight-day session, IARC concluded, "occupational exposures to oxidized bitumens and their emissions during roofing are classified in IARC Group 2A, ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.'"

IARC has not yet made available a specific explanation of the basis for this determination. It will be a year or more before the monograph for the review will be published. In its news release, IARC states it found "sufficient evidence" of carcinogenicity in experimental animals and "limited" evidence in humans.

So what does this mean for the roofing industry? IARC is not a regulatory agency, so it has no immediate bearing on OSHA regulations. However, its findings can trigger regulatory requirements, including the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard and California's Proposition 65.

For example, based on the IARC finding, manufacturers might be expected to change their material safety data sheets and product labels, which would prompt a contractor's duty to communicate that change to workers through a company's OSHA hazard communication standard.

With essentially no guidance currently available from IARC on the practical import of its finding, it is quite possible manufacturers will interpret it differently.

For example, the finding refers to "emissions," not fumes, and might be interpreted to cover exposures to asphalt dusts that may be created during tear-offs. Some manufacturers might interpret the IARC finding as applicable to cold-applied products such as shingles and roof coatings.

In addition, because the IARC finding refers specifically to oxidized asphalt, the status of products made with straight-run or lightly blown (air-rectified) asphalts, such as polymer-modified bitumen membranes, is less than clear. The roofing industry may have to wait until the monograph is published to get answers to these and other questions.

For now, roofing contractors should continue to limit worker exposures and understand scientific evidence points to heated fumes as the potential concern. To this end, monitoring temperatures at the kettle and roof, meeting manufacturers' requirements, having workers wear proper personal protective equipment and clothing (in particular to prevent skin burns), and mechanically moving or staying out of heated fumes still are appropriate exposure control methods.

For assistance with controlling fumes exposure, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health published Reducing Roofers' Exposure to Asphalt Fumes, which was developed in conjunction with the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers.

We're in this together

There is no shortage of safety and health concerns roofing contractors and workers face daily. It is important to identify and manage these risks so roofing work can be performed safely and efficiently. As NRCA continues to fight for reasonable regulations, I encourage roofing professionals to share their compliance challenges, as well as success stories, with NRCA.

Thomas R. Shanahan, CAE, is NRCA's associate executive director of risk management.

Did you know?

Hands-on training conducted regularly is the most effective way to reinforce worker safety, comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, and improve profitability.

Incorporating toolbox talks into your training enables foremen and trainers to review an important safety lesson with their crews each week.

At a minimum, toolbox talks should include the following topics:

  • Electrical safety
  • Equipment safety
  • Fall protection
  • Fire prevention
  • OSHA requirements
  • Hazard communication
  • Hot-asphalt safety
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Personal safety
  • Repetitive-stress disorders

For information about NRCA's Toolbox Talks, visit



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