Fiberglass is an incredibly useful and durable material that you can mold and shape into just about anything. Fiberglass especially is useful in the construction and manufacturing industries, where its relative high strength, light weight, and affordable cost make is a fantastic material for creating almost anything.
Fiberglass weighs less than steel or aluminum and has been used in a variety of industrial capacities. Many sports cars formerly featured fiberglass bodies that performed exceptionally well and only recently were surpassed by much costlier carbon fiber. Yet, fiberglass remains a highly valued and useful industrial tool and in the construction industry for insulation and other purposes. The dust and particles that enter the air while working with it requires fiberglass protective clothing to prevent injuries and illness.
How fiberglass Exposure Occurs
The dust that occurs as byproduct of working with fiberglass is the primary way most people suffer fiberglass exposure. The eyes and lungs are especially vulnerable and significant exposure could cause serious injuries or worse. Whenever workers sand, cut, trim, or saw fiberglass or fiberglass mats, it produces dust. That dust comes into contact with the skin where it causes itching and potential rashes – especially if you scratch and rub your skin while it has fiberglass dust and fibers on it. You also can inhale fiberglass dust and get it in your eyes, which can be especially painful and irritating.
How fiberglass Might Affect Your Health
Fortunately, exposure to fiberglass in any form should not cause serious injuries or other health-related issues, such as the long-term onset of deadly disease. Inhalation of small particles that might embed themselves in your lower lungs is especially dangerous and could lead to respiratory illness. Signs of fiberglass exposure and ill effects on health include:
- A rash on the skin where fibers embedded themselves.
- The eyes become irritated, swollen, and red from fiberglass exposure.
- The nose and throat can become sore from inhaling particles.
- Stomach irritation can occur when particles are swallowed.
- Asthma and bronchitis can result from exposure to fiberglass dust.
Although fiberglass is a widely used material, surprisingly little is known about potential health risks from excessive exposure to small particles. Anecdotal evidence suggests it mostly is incredibly irritating and leads to massive discomfort. Safety precautions can limit the exposure and potential ill effects of fiberglass exposure. Some tests have show fiberglass exposure has caused cancer in rats, but the testing methods are questioned and the results inconclusive. Still, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies as possible carcinogens some of the fibers used to make fiberglass.
OSHA Exposure Limits
The potential ill-effects of fiberglass exposure are serious enough to warrant regulation by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA sets a limit of 15 mg per cubic meter exposure to fiberglass fibers that people cannot breathe due to their size and weight. When the fiberglass fibers are capable of getting into workers’ lungs, OSHA limits exposure to no more than 5 mg per cubic meter and says such fibers might cause cancer.
Fiberglass Protective Clothing Reduces Exposure
The best way to abide OSHA regulations and to protect workers in general is to provide the proper fiberglass protective clothing and the correct tools to do the job right and stay safe. The head should remain covered with a hat or a protective hood that prevents fiberglass dust from settling in the eyes or on the hair, face, and neck. Any type of hat will help to protect against fiberglass exposure to the head and eyes, but a hood is the best solution.
Goggles and Masks Protect Vital Organs
Even when wearing a hood, goggles and a dust mask will help to stop fiberglass particles from contaminating the eyes and lungs. Large safety goggles that securely fit around both eyes and prevents outside contamination is the best and are very affordable. A filtration mask must have heavy-duty filters to thoroughly filter out all fiberglass particles from the air breathed in by workers. A simple dust mask that fits around the nose and mouth will work fine. More effective masks are available, too, that can filter out a wide range of potential contaminants and harmful substances in addition to fiberglass dust.
Protection for Body and Hands
You do not have to suit up in a hazmat suit to protect against fiberglass contamination. A long-sleeve shirt or coveralls will do fine. A simple jumpsuit that stops fiberglass penetration, fits easily over worker clothing, and does not overheat workers is a terrific solution for protecting against skin irritation and similar problems caused by fiberglass contamination. Gloves will prevent the fibers from getting on the hands. Sleeves and leggings that wrap and seal at the wrist and ankles with Velcro will prevent fiberglass dust from creeping up along the arms and legs. They are simple to dispose of after a full day of work while preventing contamination.
Your workers can wear comfortable footwear so long as they do not have open toes or ankles. Depending on the nature of the work, standard work boots and socks should do fine for protecting against fiberglass contamination. Proper workwear and common sense are the two main ingredients workers need to protect against fiberglass contamination and any possible ill-effects.