Not just hot air

ADF reports on how the roofing industry is joining forces to tackle the fire risks posed by gas torch roofing installation methods, with hot air being one alternative

Gas torches are a popular tool among roofing professionals for installing bitumen materials or for drying out roofs. However, when gas-supplied torches do not conform to best practice guidelines or are used incorrectly near potentially flammable abutment details, it can have catastrophic consequences. As a result, the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) launched its campaign ‘Safe2Torch’ in July 2017, with the aim of significantly reducing the risk of roof fires. It actively promotes and educates about safe working practice and safe specifications by identifying detailing situations where it is ‘unsafe to torch’, and then applying appropriate and alternative hot air methods. This gives manufacturers, architects, contractors, and clients assurance and confidence in the roof construction process. Gas torches are a standard tool for installing membranes or drying out substrates in preparation for new roofing applications. Propane is the most common choice of gas for torches as it is relatively cheap and widely available. Unfortunately, it is also highly flammable and a source of ignition when flammable materials are present, e.g. insulation and timber. In 2013, a fire caused £17m worth of damage at a hotel on the Isle of Man when a roofer was using a gas blow torch to dry out timbers. The naked flame set fire to the flammable resins, and the result was not only substantial damage but also placing lives in danger.

Promoting responsible & safe roofing applications

The NFRC launched Safe2Torch to encourage safer practices for those using gas torches for roof work and safer design specifications from the outset for responsible build processes. Architects, surveyors and contractors who design and specify roofing structures which require hot works need to assess the associated hazards and reduce or remove the risks of fire involved. By identifying such hazards in the form of flammable abutment details and substrates, the specification will include a torch-free alternative solution, usually in the form of hot air technology – i.e. no naked flame will be present. In the UK this is generally provided in the form of 120V hot air welding or drying. Clive Day, technical director at Welwyn Tool Group, the UK distributor for Leister Hot Air Tools, comments: “We recognise that as safety regulations on the roof become more prevalent, safe installation solutions are required. We have a comprehensive range of hot air welding equipment to meet all flameless membrane bonding and welding requirements on the rooftop, ensuring contractors are fully compliant and can continue to secure installation opportunities”. Doug Ross, projects director at Bauder, expresses his support for the Safe2Torch campaign: “All major manufacturers or system suppliers have adopted the NFRC’s Safe2Torch initiative and the availability of high quality and reliable hot air tooling plays a major role in roofing contractors being able to deliver safer solutions on site.” Ross continues, “Bitumen waterproofing provides durability and a long service life, and hot air technology provides an alternative installation method to safely address waterproof detailing in potentially combustible areas.” “Roof fires are quite rare events, but each is highly publicised and regardless of the cause, highly detrimental to our industry. It is right therefore that we collectively adopt these safer practices and detailing methods to help eliminate this unnecessary issue.” The Safe2Torch campaign will directly affect at least 50 per cent of all the flat roofs installed in the UK. It is designed to support specification designers to comply with the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015, and joins with the HSE- led ‘Helping Great Britain Work Well’ strategy, promoting a safer and healthier working environment.