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Shining a Light on the Torch-on Issue

by Laura | Jul 01, 2014

Editorial was featured in the June Edition of RCi Magazine, and was reproduced with their permission.   

In the April issue of RCI it was reported that a working group made up of manufacturers, contractors and insurance advisors had been formed to tackle the issue of inappropriate use of gas torches on roofs. After a growing concern within the industry over the number of roof fires caused by gas torches, NFRC felt something had to be done to alleviate the danger and address the the insurance implications for contractors.

Bill Jenkins explained to RCI: "One of the concerns was that there was scope for manufacturers to provide specifications which contractors weren't actually insured to undertake. Initially we asked manufacturers to stop writing specifications for torch-on systems where there are combustible decks and details. Contractors could run into the problem that if they've tendered for the work, they are liable to to do it, and if they try to change it (the specification) they run into trouble with the manufacturer and with the client. In such a situation the contractor can be stuck in the middle wanting the work, but not wanting the risks".

The working group decided to produce a simple 'Responsible Specification Checklist', which contractors can use on site - the idea being if you tick a box against certain details, don't use a torch-on system. Now, however, as Bill explained, the difficult part is raising awareness so that incidents on sites can be reduced: "The aim is that if anybody writes a specification, the contractor should just run through this checklist and if there are ticks in any of the boxes, then don't use a torch-applied first layer; it really is as simple as that. What is difficult is getting people to take notice of it! We've identified a number of details that are a risk, for example where a flat roof abuts a pitched roof - a common one for a for domestic work, but there are a number of other examples. For instance, if there is use of a plywood deck and there is a gap between the plywood sheets then the flame can get through the gaps. Plywood itself may be safe, but the problem is handling the joints and it's just drawing attention to such potential problems."

With the checklist now in circulation, Bill said it has been very well received in the market and contractors are "glad someone is doing something about a potential problem area."

It has also received approval from the HSE who have agreed to circulate copies to their inspectors. The focus now is on building momentum and making sure contractors are doing the correct thing on site when it comes to the use of gas torches. 

Bill added: "There's absolutely nothing wrong with torch-on in the right situation, it works and it's perfectly safe providing you are not burning up something that's combustible, and that's really all we're saying."

He concluded: "As we are starting to get people to take notice of the checklist and be more responsible, we are talking to the insurance companies about how their wording in policies may be clarified and /or simplified to ensure that contractors are aware of their cover.

This will be an ongoing subject for awareness in the industry and NFRC says it will be emphasising the point to all its contractor and manufacturer members. Plus it will be encouraging members to check on their insurance policies and, if in doubt, to use dedicated construction industry brokers for advice.

 Bill Jenkins NFRC Technical Manager  

Bill Jenkins - NFRC Technical Manager