Many blow-on/spray-on insulating applications contain chemicals or materials which can cause irritation or sensitization to those working in the industry.

Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF) is one of several material used to insulate new construction and when retrofitting older buildings. SPF contains Isocyanates, which have been reported to be the leading attributable chemical cause of work-related asthma (WRA) (NIOSH, 2004). Therefore, employers need to ensure that SPF application is carried out in a safe manner to protect workers.

Workers in the SPF insulating industry can be exposed to inhalation hazards from isocyanates and other hazardous chemical vapors or dusts. OSHA requires a hierarchy of controls, under which employers must first implement engineering controls (including elimination, substitution) and/or administrative controls whenever possible. If such controls are not feasible to achieve full compliance, personal protective equipment or any other protective measures must be used to ensure the employees are not exposed to air contaminants above permissible limits.

According to OSHA (USA) a respirator with full face mask should be provided and worn during application and clean-up to avoid skin contact. It is recommended that employers provide a supplied-air respirator for both safety and comfort of the worker since heat stress can become an issue.

In the US, jobs in the weatherization industry (either for new homes and commercial/public buildings or retrofitting old homes and commercial/public buildings) have increased significantly over the past 10 years. Weatherization jobs include work-related activities from direct installation of weatherization and insulation materials (applicators) to assisting applicators with installation of weatherization materials to cleanup.

All weatherization applications and materials have some benefits. All weatherization applications and materials have some hazards. The hazard information and solutions common to all these applications and materials include: confined spaces, falls, electrical, medical and first aid, ventilation, proper personal protective equipment and respiratory protection. Unique hazards are outlined in the sections below under the individual materials.

In weatherization/insulation, workers can be exposed to the hazards that have been identified below:

Fiberglass

Fiberglass has been used as insulation for many years. The main concerns with use of fiberglass insulation are skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritation. Long-sleeved shirts and long-legged pants, gloves, and head coverings are generally recommended to protect against skin irritation when working with fiberglass insulation. In some cases, eye protection and respiratory protection may also be necessary. Additional information on safe handling of fiberglass products is available from the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association.

Cellulose

Cellulose is the oldest known building insulating material. Dry cellulose can be used in retrofitting old buildings by blowing the cellulose into the wall cavity using boar holes drilled at the top of the walls. Either dry cellulose or wet cellulose applications can be used in new building construction. Cellulose is a respiratory irritant (NTP, 2006). Employers should provide workers with the appropriate dust respirators when using this type of insulation material (NTP, 2006; 29 CFR 1910.1000 Subpart Z; 29 CFR 1926.55 Appendix A).

Unless treated with fire-retardants cellulose can be flammable, and should not be used around open flames (Philpot, 1970).

Polystyrene

Polystyrene is used as a spray-on application similar to SPF installations. Styrene may be generated during the installation process. Styrene has been shown to cause several health effects when inhaled. These include respiratory irritation, and neurological effects. Employers need to provide adequate respiratory protection and protective equipment similar to SPF installation when using this spray-on application (29 CFR 1910.1000 Subpart Z; 29 CFR 1926.55 Appendix A – Air contaminants; EPA IRIS).

Styrene is also flammable and the same controls as outlined for SPF should be used (29 CFR 1910.106 – Flammable and combustible liquids).

Latex Sealant

Latex sealant is generally used with fiberglass batting in order to provide a better seal. Because latex is a known sensitizer it can cause allergic skin and respiratory reactions in some individuals. Employers need to provide workers with proper protective equipment and respiratory protection when using this type of product to avoid unnecessary skin, eye, and respiratory exposure.

Spray Polyurethane Foam

Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF) is used as an insulating material in new construction and when retrofitting older buildings. Employers need to ensure that SPF application is carried out in a safe manner to protect workers. SPF contains Isocyanates, which have been reported to be the leading attributable chemical cause of work-related asthma (WRA) (NIOSH, 2004).

For more information visit https://www.osha.gov/dep/greenjobs/weather_spf.html