Is Lead Safe For My Roof?

06/09/2021

How to Work Safely with Lead: Resources and Must-Know Info

When someone says the word ‘lead’, it can conjure up some scary images in our heads. Lead has got a rep for being dangerous and difficult to work with. 

There’s certainly no denying that lead is a building material that carries risk. Construction workers can become severely ill if their exposure to lead is not well-managed. 

(You can download our free educational resource on ‘Working safely with lead’ by clicking the link.)

Is lead safe to use on my roof?

If controlled and installed by experienced and certified construction companies, then lead is a great choice for roofing on flashing. Flashing are channels of metal that directs rainfall away from vulnerable areas of the roof. 

Lead is a workable metal, and because of its flexibility, it is resistant to splitting or cracking due to temperature changes. Up on the roof, the lead is exposed to extreme conditions and must withstand heat, cold, wind, water, as well as the weight of snowfall.

Lead is malleable, yet strong, and therefore very resistant to these extremities, and this makes it a reliable building material, that is still very popular for roof flashings. There are buildings in Europe whose lead sheeting has survived for hundreds of years and still protects the structure.

Lead is safe for residents who live in houses with lead work on the roof. Lead is also not dangerous for the environment or wildlife that could be affected by water runoff from the roof. This is because, after being exposed to the elements and to the moisture and gases in our atmosphere, lead develops an insoluble layer. This layer cannot be quickly dissolved by water (a little bit like the layer that forms on copper roofs and turns the metal green).

So is lead safe for roofing? Yes, lead is safe to use on your roof, when installed correctly. Bristow and Reeve always comply with the British Standard Code of Practice whenever we work with lead.

Fun fact, lead is used in hospitals by radiographers to protect them from radiation rays!

The European Lead Sheet Industry Association states that “Installed correctly, lead sheet poses no risk to the environment or people.”  

When is lead dangerous to work with?

A paper published by the European Lead Sheet Industry Association (ELSIA) says that dangerous lead exposure can happen either through inhalation or ingestion.  They provide a guide on how workers can work safely with lead, including wearing protective clothing and washing thoroughly. 

A brochure published by HSE further explains that inhalation or ingestion can happen when a person “breathe[s] in lead dust, fume or vapour; [or] swallow[s] any lead, eg. if you eat, drink, smoke, or bite your nails without washing your hands and face.” However, “[l]ead is not absorbed through the skin” so you will not get ill just by brushing past lead, for example.

Lead should always be installed by experienced workers who comply with current HSE standards. Be sure to ask your contractor about their previous experience, and the standards they will work to.

Benefits of roofing with lead

Some benefits of using lead are:

DIY safely with lead

“Can I do DIY work with lead myself?” You ask! Some people may notice small repairs around downpipe overlaps, or around the chimney flashing (especially on older buildings), and decide to give the minor repair work a go themselves. We love the ‘make-do-and-mend’ spirit, and it’s a good idea to know how to fix things around your home for yourself. However, working at height, and with lead can be dangerous. We strongly recommend arranging for specialists and professionals to come and do the work for you. (This saves you time, as well!)

If you do decide to solder with lead in order to carry out these repairs, we firstly recommend that you find alternative solder alloys. Secondly, we urge you to wear protective clothing, such as gloves, an eye mask, long sleeves and long trousers, and clean up using cloths that can be disposed of, and will not be confused with domestic, household cleaning cloths.

Lead workers have blood tests at least every 6 months, so we also recommend going to the doctors for a blood test, if you have recently worked with lead.

Our overall advice is… leave it to the professionals. Lead is a safe material when it is handled correctly and by experienced lead workers.

How to dispose of lead in the UK

You can find your nearest lead recycling point at www.recyclenow.com. Lead can also be sold to scrap metal dealers, however, the payment must never be paid in cash, and the dealer or recycling facility must be an Approved Authorised Treatment Facility (AATF), and comply with EU Waste Regulations. You can find local dealers or recycling centres by searching the internet for ‘AATF recycling near me’.

As we have previously mentioned, lead’s impact is greatly reduced by its reusability, and the majority of lead used in UK building is recycled, not mined. Reputable contractors will offer to dispose of any leftover lead themselves, but if you are carrying out any repair work yourself, you may want to take advantage of lead’s reusabilty!

We hope you found this article useful. If you would like more information, please check out these other helpful and authoritative resources:

https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg305.pdf

https://www.britishlead.co.uk/fluidcms/files/files/ELSIA-benefits-of-using-lead-sheet.pdf

https://leadsheet.co.uk/app/uploads/2018/05/ELSIA-LeadworkerSafetyDoc-UK.pdf