What is Fiberglass?
Fiberglass, sometimes called fibrous glass, is a man-made fiber in which the fiber-forming substance is glass. Fiberglass is used in various ways, such as reinforcing plastic materials in sports cars, boats and bathroom fixtures; as insulation in buildings, stoves, refrigerators and furnaces and to manufacture certain textile products, such as fiberglass window drapes. The structure and size of these glass fibers vary. The smaller fibers, which cannot be seen by the naked eye, are suspected of entering the lungs, while larger, visible fiberglass particles can be irritating to the skin, eyes. nose and throat.
Who is Exposed?
Workers in the building construction and maintenance industry, especially insulation workers, are at risk of exposure to fiberglass. Workers in the fiberglass manufacturing industry and automobile body repair workers may be exposed to the lung hazards of fiberglass and its associated chemicals in the workplace. According to the Federal Government, fiberglass is used in the manufacturing of about 20,000 products, and about 200,000 workers in the United States are exposed to it. Do it yourself homeowners who install fiberglass insulation or who disturb existing fiberglass insulation in the process of performing home repairs are also at risk.
How Does Exposure Occur?
Workers using fiberglass may be exposed to airborne fibers from the fiberglass itself and to various chemicals associated with using it.
Direct contact with fiberglass materials or exposure to airborne fiberglass dust may irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat. There is a possibility that these fibers cause permanent damage to the lungs or airways, or increase the likelihood of developing lung cancer. inhaling the fibers may irritate the airways, resulting in cough and production of excess mucus, a condition known as bronchitis.
Epoxy Resins are chemicals used in lacquers, varnishes and plastics, or in combination with other components to form plastics. They are also used to strengthen, harden, or give flexibility to fiberglass. Breathing epoxy resins may cause chest tightness, shortness of breath or wheezing. Skin contact can cause rash.
Styrene is part of the polyester resin used with fiberglass. It is extremely irritating to the eyes and nose at low concentrations; at higher concentrations it causes headache, dizziness, and sometimes nausea.
Acetone and MEK (Methyl Ethyl Ketone) are commonly used solvents in fiberglass lay-up and spray-up. They are irritating to the eyes, nose and throat. Inhaling the vapors may cause drowsiness, breathing difficulties, and more serious damage to the lungs and nervous system.
Prevention and Protection
There are several ways to reduce risks of exposure to fiberglass and the toxic substances often used with it.
Laws There are laws to protect workers from occupational hazards and risks. The Occupational Safetyand Health Administration (OSHA), through the Hazard Communication Standard, requires workers be informed about the occupational hazards they may be exposed to. Many states have passed their own worker and/or community Right-to-Know laws.
Workplace Environment Adequate Ventilation of the work area is very important. Employers should provide laundered work clothes or facilities in which to launder clothes. Washing facilities and showers should be made available to the workers to use before changing into street clothes. Vacuuming, washdown procedures and wet sweeping can be helpful in reducing the dust associated with fiberglass. Dry sweeping or any other type of clean-up procedure that spreads the dust should be avoided. Information on effective ventilation systems for dusts and solvents is available from state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Agencies, the National Safety Council, and the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists in its Industrial Ventilation Manual.
Protective Clothing and Equipment Gloves and other protective clothing can help prevent skin problems by reducing direct contact with glass fibers. Dust masks can help prevent or reduce the inhalation of small fiberglass particles. Goggles that fit properly can prevent eye irritation. Respirators, if properly selected, used and maintained, reduce the exposure to dusts, fibers and chemicals. Respirator selection is based on the size and concentration of the fiberglass particles. Information on effective protective equipment is available from the state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Agencies, the National Safety Council, and the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists’ Industrial Ventilation Manual.
Work Practices and Personal Habits Wash hands before eating and keep food away from the worksite. Eating, drinking and gum chewing at the worksite should be avoided. When using chemicals with fiberglass, always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for reducing exposure. Be alert for possible breathing effects related to your workplace. Look out for chest tightness, wheezing, severe coughing or coughing that does not stop. if these conditions appear, see a doctor. Smoking cigarettes and/or marijuana may increase the risk of developing lung disease when combined with exposure to fiberglass and to chemicals used with it.