How to Protect Yourself When Installing Fiberglass Insulation
Fiberglass (also known as glass wool or fibrous glass) is the most common insulating material used in residential construction because it’s highly effective at trapping in a home’s thermal energy, affordable and relatively easy to work with.
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However, working with fiberglass can irritate the skin, eyes and upper respiratory tract, so it’s important to protect yourself when you’re installing it.
Risks of Handling Fiberglass Insulation
Although the pink, cotton-candy appearance of fiberglass makes it look harmless, it’s actually a fairly abrasive material that primarily consists of tiny glass particles. When it’s moved, cut or modified in any way, the glass particles in the fiberglass dust can land on your skin or eyes and be inhaled into your upper respiratory tract. When it contacts your skin or eyes, the glass can cause extremely small cuts that can lead to irritation, itching or a rash. When it’s inhaled, it can cause soreness in your throat, nose or lungs, and it can aggravate underlying respiratory conditions like asthma or bronchitis.
Fortunately, all of these risks can be avoided by donning the appropriate safety gear and properly handling the material.
Protecting Yourself When Installing Fiberglass Insulation
Personal Protective Equipment
The best way to protect yourself when handling fiberglass is to wear personal protective equipment, also called PPE. This includes a dust mask or respirator to protect your lungs, safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes, work gloves to protect your hand and clothing that covers every part of your body.
At a minimum, you should wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and tall socks. Ideally, you should also wear a hat or hood to keep fiberglass out of your hair, and a scarf or bandana to cover your neck. You can also tape the cuff of your shirt sleeves to your gloves and the hem of your pant legs to your socks to eliminate any openings where fiberglass may enter.
Once you’ve finished working with the fiberglass, the clothes should be washed to remove the fiberglass dust from them. Wash them separately from the rest of your clothes to avoid possible contamination.
An alternative to wearing multiple items of clothing is to wear a single-piece, disposable coverall that will cover your entire body. Even then, you may still want to wear a bandana or scarf, and a hat or hood. You can seal the ends of the sleeves and pant legs with tape. After you’re done working with the fiberglass, you can simply dispose of the coveralls.
In addition to PPE, proper handling of the fiberglass can greatly minimize your exposure to fiberglass dust. Here are some tips:
1. Keep the fiberglass in its original packaging until you’re ready to use it.
2. Use hand tools to cut fiberglass whenever possible. Only use power tools with dust-collection attachments.
3. Dispose of scrap insulation in a sealed or covered container.
4. Avoid touching your eyes, skin or mouth with your gloved hands.
5. Work in a well-ventilated area by opening any doors or windows in the area.
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What to Do if You’re Exposed to Fiberglass Dust
If fiberglass dust still manages to contact your skin and itching, irritation or a rash develops, wash the area with cold, low-pressure water for several minutes to rinse the glass particles off your skin. If the sensation persists after rinsing with cold water, you can apply an emollient cream or topical corticosteroid to the area. If fiberglass gets into your eyes, flush them out with running water for 15 minutes. In either case, avoid rubbing or scratching since that will drive the particles deeper into the affected area and exacerbate the problem.
Respiratory irritation should dissipate naturally over time, but you can combat throat irritation with sore throat lozenges or by gargling salt water. However, if the symptoms worsen or persist for several days, you should seek medical assistance.