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Fiberglass

Fiberglass is part of a group of synthetic vitreous fibers (SVF) made of inorganic materials that contain aluminum or calcium silicates, oxides and metals, manufactured from rock wool, slag wool, clay, or glass. Fiberglass is used for a variety of purposes. The most common uses of fiberglass include thermal and sound insulation, and reinforcing materials. It is estimated that there are more than 30,000 commercial uses for fiberglass and it is a major product for the United States economy.

Occupational exposure to fiberglass occurs in the production, installation, maintenance and repair, and demolition of fiberglass materials.

Exposure to fiberglass can result from direct contact with fiberglass materials and fiberglass dust. Such contact causes irritation to the eyes, skin, upper respiratory tract, and the lungs, resulting in eye irritation, skin rash, nasal congestion, sore throat, and coughing. Irritation of the respiratory tract from fiberglass has been detected in work environments with airborne concentrations of less than 1 fiber per cubic centimeter (cc). In addition to fiberglass exposure, workers may be exposed to chemicals that are associated in the manufacturing of fiberglass products. These chemicals include:

  • Epoxy resins that are used to strengthen, harden or give flexibility to fiberglass. Inhaling epoxy resin vapors can result in shortness of breath, wheezing and tightness in the chest. Direct contact of epoxy resins with the skin can also cause rash.
  • Typically polyester resin containing styrene monomer is used in fiberglass applications. Styrene can be extremely irritating to the eyes and upper respiratory tract and can also cause headaches and dizziness.
  • Acetone and methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) are commonly used chemicals in fiberglass spray-up and lay-up operations. These chemicals can be irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat. Inhaling these chemical vapors may also cause drowsiness, difficulty in breathing, and damage to the lungs and central nervous system.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for Glass (Fibrous) is 1 fiber/cc. This Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) is enforceable by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health under the California Department of Industrial Relations, Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations, Section 5155 Airborne Contaminants.

Prevention and protection measures should include the following:

  • Engineering controls, such as local exhaust ventilation, should be employed to remove contaminants out of the worker’s breathing zone, as well as the workplace environment.
  • Appropriate respiratory protection and other personal protective equipment, such as goggles, coveralls, and gloves are recommended when working with fiberglass, as well as any chemicals that are used in the manufacturing of fiberglass products.
  • Washing facilities and showers should be made available to the workers to use before they change into their street clothes.
  • HEPA vacuuming, wet sweeping, and wash down procedures are helpful in reducing the dust associated with fiberglass. Dry sweeping or any other type of clean-up methods that spreads the dust contamination should be avoided.

The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.

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