Respirators Keep Roofers Safe and Keep Comp Costs Down

Roofers seldom think of their respiratory health. Having worked closely with roofers for over 20 years, I can say with certainty that most feel that this area of OSHA compliance and heath is not on their “top ten list”.

I will address this issue from the perspective of a group of roofers I have worked with recently for a large roofing contractor.
I can honestly say that I am always aware of these hazards, but in the interest of overall risk management, there were always just “bigger fish to fry”. Keeping roofers from falling off a roof just seemed more important all along.
Why Now?
As a whole, roofing
has seen the highest level of improvement in safety of any part of construction. However, we all have areas we need to address. If fall protection is conquered and other critical areas of safety in your trade, but respiratory health has not been addressed, it might be a worthwhile choice. But, why a formal respirator program? The reasons are many and varied. Let us look at a sampling of some critical items.
1.  Hazards
From the first cut of a saw into concrete, the silica requirement is met. And thanks to a recent addition to the welding standard, any welding will now put us into the hexavalent chromium standard. The very act of burning the welding rods makes for sufficient H/C to put us in the action level of the standard.
2.  Adhesive hazard
It is quite easy to get into trouble with PEL’s (permissible exposure limit) of these chemicals. The exposure will be higher on low wind days. Often, a false conclusion is made that wind direction or use of local ventilation is sufficient; however, a close read of the MSDS on newer adhesives will show that “respirator protection is recommended for all days, not just windy ones!
3.  Re-roof hazards
Other hazards face us on “re-roofs”. Hazards, such as mold, bacteria and unknown particles (asbestos, fiberglass) arise when disturbed while removing old covering layers. This is critical, as many roofing situations can create sufficient dust and unknown particles to be of real concern. Total dust and particulates alone can easily become a respiratory hazard. (You may want to scream,” I QUIT!”) Not so fast, though.  A compliant respiratory program can be simple and affordable, with proper thought and implementation.
First, who gets selected to be the respirator users? Cost is a considerable factor, here, so it is not advisable to use new employees. Can you say, “increased turnover costs”?
The costs are real. First, the employee(s) chosen are sent to a doctor, who performs respiratory testing including spirometry ( Read more about spirometry from here). OSHA requires employees be tested to see if their health is sufficient to use a respirator. Working, while breathing through a respirator, is harder than one might think. It is important to choose employees in excellent health preferably non-smokers, when possible.

Cost at an occupational medical center should be about $125 for first check and somewhere between $75 and $125 each year thereafter for OSHA required annual follow up. This is another reason why it is important to choose employees looking toward longevity.
Quality counts
Next, purchase “quality protection”. N-95 dust masks will suffice for exposure other than just that dust mold, and particulates in low levels.  We recommend a quality half-mask respirator, around $90, with interchangeable cartridges ($50 per exposure). This way, one mask can serve welding, adhesives and particulates, by changing the filter cartridge for the task at hand.
Now the employee will need to be trained and fit-tested for the respirator. Cost?  $125, tops. So, that is around $500-$650 per trained and certified employee per year. This is a pittance compared to even the first medical claim or OSHA violation!

The OSHA Inspection
It makes for a compelling risk assessment; even if in your area (large city as opposed to rural costs) you find it on the high side of these estimates. But, make no mistake about it—YES the OSHA inspector will ask even a roofer about compliance with this standard, especially if the roofer is using the concrete saw or adhesives at the time the inspector is on site.
Now that the fall protection and other threatening safety “dragons” are slain, it may be time to look at the respiratory health and compliance in your company. [WCx]
The roofing industry is more aware of risk and compliance  as time passes . Also we are learning that some of our worst fears about compliance were unfounded and can actually make for good business. Stay safe!!
Brian Hill is owner of OshaSure in Birmingham Alabama and has over 20 years as a workplace safety and risk consultant. Brian was previously a pilot for a major US airline and member of the company’s interdepartmental safety committee. He found his new career in safety after the closing of the airline in 1991. Brian has found the same passion he had for flying in assisting companies with safety, heath and risk issues. Contact Brian by email at:  For more information click on  or call 205-296-0601





Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers comp issues.


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