Handling Insulation Safely
by: Tim Butler
Director of Safety and Compliance
Fiberglass insulation offers an inexpensive yet highly efficient way to help lock in thermal energy in a building. At OMNI, each of our three divisions are often exposed to insulation at remodels, construction sites and in the industrial plants we service. Fiberglass insulation is the most popular choice to save energy costs in a building. Although it serves its primary purpose well, fiberglass insulation can irritate the skin, eyes and respiratory system. This is why it is important to follow some basic safety precautions when handling it.
Fiberglass insulation causes irritation due to the numerous glass particles it contains. While there are different types of fiberglass insulation, most of them are produced by embedding small grains of sand or glass into the fibers. This creates a highly efficient yet abrasive material. It’s not uncommon for young children to run up and touch fiberglass insulation without realizing its potential for irritation. To the untrained eye, it looks like a pad of soft, pink colored cotton. After running your hands on this otherwise normal-looking material, however, you may notice an itching and burning sensation on the exposed area.
Before handling fiberglass insulation, you should first gear up in the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes safety glasses, long pants, long-sleeved shirt and headwear. You can also wear a protective coverall to keep your clothing clean. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recommends loose, non-constricting clothing to minimize the risk for direct skin contact with fiberglass particles. Another key piece of PPE that shouldn’t be overlooked is a dust mask. Even if you don’t physically touch the insulation with your skin, being around it could result in particles entering your respiratory system. Each time you take a breath, some of the fiberglass particles may enter your lungs, causing irritation and breathing problems. When you are finished handling fiberglass insulation, remove your clothes and set them aside to wash in a separate load. It’s not uncommon for some of the fiberglass particles to linger on shirts and pants for days after they are worn. Thankfully, these particles are easily rinsed away by washing them.
Other Handling Tips
• Keep fiberglass insulation in its original packaging for as long as possible.
• Use caution to avoid stirring up fiberglass particles into the air.
• Only use power tools with a built-in dust catcher on fiberglass insulation.
• Avoid rubbing your skin, eyes or mouth after handling. Wash your hands after touching insulation.
• Make sure the area is well ventilated before entering.