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Asphalt fumes — reducing exposures for roofers

Roofers exposed to asphalt fumes may experience headache; eye, nose, throat and skin irritation; nausea; fatigue and drowsiness. Asphalt fumes are associated with lung cancer as well. This document provides recommendations developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for reducing roofer exposures to asphalt fumes.

What steps should contractors take before starting work?

Assign a competent person to be responsible for safety and health on the job. This person, usually the superintendent or the foreman, will have knowledge about roofing hazards and the authority to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate unsafe acts or unsafe conditions on the job.

Ensure that workers have been properly educated about the hazards of applying hot asphalt and trained in the use of safe work practices as well as the use of the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to reduce exposures to asphalt fumes.

Plan each worksite before work begins to reduce asphalt fume exposures for workers and building occupants.

  • Consider using a tanker to supply asphalt to the kettle or directly to the rooftop.
  • If kettles must be used, place them where the operator and workers will be least exposed to the fumes. Keep the kettle away from air intakes, doors and windows.
  • Consult with building owners about how to minimize concerns from occupants about asphalt fumes. Consider notifying occupants before the job begins. Discuss with building owners whether air intake systems should be turned off and whether all applicable building air intake vents should be closed or covered.
  • Consider scheduling work during off hours for commercial buildings and during school or work hours for private residences.
  • Consider using roofing equipment and accessories that have lids to reduce exposure to fumes.

What safe work practices should roofers use?

If tankers cannot be used, employ the following safe work practices when operating the kettle and applying hot asphalt to the roof:

Use the proper equipment

  • Whenever possible, select an insulated kettle that is the right size for the job. Make sure it has temperature controls and the right pumping capacity for its size.
  • Make sure the kettle is in good operating condition. Report any defects to the foreman or superintendent.
  • Insulate the pipeline that delivers hot asphalt to the roof.
  • Use the proper PPE.

Follow safe procedures

  • Set the kettle on firm, level ground to avoid spilling or tipping.
  • Place warning tape, traffic cones or signs around the kettle to keep the public at a safe distance.
  • Keep a fully charged ABC-type fire extinguisher near the kettle. Make sure all workers know how to use it.
  • Reduce the number of times the lid is opened. Fill the kettle to capacity when reloading and check the temperature, stir and skim at the same time.
  • Pre-chop the asphalt into pieces that can be easily handled and melted.
  • Consider using fume-suppressing asphalts.

Maintain asphalt temperature

Take the following steps to maintain proper asphalt temperature and reduce exposure to asphalt fumes (unless manufacturer recommends otherwise):

  • Find the equiviscous temperature (EVT) and flash point of the asphalt on the keg package or bill of lading.
  • To begin, set the kettle temperature at the EVT plus 50˚F (10˚C).
  • Communicate with the rooftop crew as they periodically measure the asphalt temperature in the mop bucket at the application point.
  • Adjust the kettle temperature to maintain proper temperature [the EVT plus or minus 25˚F (14˚C)].
  • Always keep the kettle temperature at least 25˚F (14˚C) below the flash point to avoid fires and explosions.
  • Read the temperature after skimming, stirring, loading or transferring the asphalt.
  • Use a hand-held or infrared thermometer to get an accurate reading of the temperature of the hot asphalt.
  • Do not point the infrared thermometer gun at anyone's face or eyes. This could result in damage to the eyes.

Safely apply hot asphalt to the roof

Use the following work practices:

  • Keep lids closed on rooftop equipment and accessories used to transport and apply hot asphalt.
  • Stay out of the fume cloud whenever possible.
  • Consider using a fan to reduce exposures in certain work areas. Make sure the fan blows air away from workers, all cords and fans are kept out of the workers' walking paths, and electrical connections for fans are grounded.
  • If buckets are used, use ones with half lids, fill the buckets only three-fourths full and carry buckets on the down slope of the roof.
  • Twist mops to unstick them from buckets — do not pull them.
  • Twist buckets to unstick them from the roof.
  • Minimize time spent on the knees working with hot asphalt, since exposures may be higher when the breathing zone is closer to the fumes. Use long-handled tools whenever possible.

What personal protective equipment (PPE) should roofers wear?

Roofers should wear the following types of PPE to minimize the risk of burns and breathing asphalt fumes:

  • Hard hat (for kettlemen).
  • Goggles or safety glasses with side shields (use a full-faceshield for operating the kettle).
  • Respirators when necessary to keep exposures below Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), NIOSH, and American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH®) exposure limits. At a minimum, respirator use must conform to the requirements of OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134 for general industry and 29 CFR 1926.103 for construction (the general industry and construction respirator protection standards are identical).
  • Cotton shirt with long sleeves.
  • Leather or heat-resistant gloves that fit tightly around the wrists.
  • Long pants with no cuffs.
  • Nonskid shoes or boots with six-inch leather uppers.

What personal hygiene practices should roofers follow?

Personal hygiene is important to protect workers from a variety of different chemical exposures that are common in roofing work. Employers should provide workers with clean water, soap or other safe cleaners. Workers should follow these personal hygiene practices:

  • Wash hands before eating and before leaving the worksite. Use soap or other safe cleaners — do not use gasoline or other chemicals.
  • Eat lunch away from asphalt fumes. Sit where the wind will blow fumes away from you.
  • Shower after work as soon as possible.
  • Change work clothes before going home to keep asphalt and solvents out of worker cars and homes.

Copyright © 2018 ISO Services Properties, Inc.

This material is provided for informational purposes only and does not provide any coverage or guarantee loss prevention. The examples in this material are provided as hypothetical and for illustration purposes only. The Hanover Insurance Company and its affiliates and subsidiaries (“The Hanover”) specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that acceptance of any recommendations contained herein will make any premises, or operation safe or in compliance with any law or regulation. By providing this information to you. The Hanover does not assume (and specifically disclaims) any duty, undertaking or responsibility to you. The decision to accept or implement any recommendation(s) or advice contained in this material must be made by you.

LC NOV 2018 10-241
171-0831 (11/18)