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Working with Fiberglass

Working with Fiberglass

It is important to determine and learn about the risks involved with fiberglass and its working. This article discusses those risks and suggests ways to reduce its dangers.
Tarali Kafaie
Fiberglass is a man-made material made out of fibers of glass, similar to naturally occurring fiber asbestos. It was invented and produced by Owens Corning Company under the trade name 'Fiberglas' in 1938, and widely used for automobile bodies and home insulation. It is a versatile material and comes in many forms like roll, blankets, mat, tissue, and cloth. It forms a strong combination with resin, and is used to make fishing rods, automobile bodies, bulletproof vests, air filters, fiberglass pools, etc. Some health risks associated with the use of this material are skin cuts, skin or eye irritation, and breathing problems due to inhalation and skin contact.

Working with Different Types
The fiberglass used for home insulation is different from the type used in automotive industry. For insulation purpose, types such as rolls, batts, blankets, and loose-fill are used, while forms such as mats, tissue, and cloth are used for automobile bodies. There are several advantages of using this material.

These are used in areas where a tough, flexible material is required to create a barrier for insulation, also for windows and doors. Though there is very little risk of working with rolls, it could cause skin cuts if not handled properly.

Fiberglass cloths are woven fibers that are placed in layers. It is a strong, uniform layered material that is mainly used for repairing boats.

Since the strands of fibers on the mats are disorganized, proper caution should be taken while working with them. They are mainly used in automobile industry and for building boats.

  • Reduces energy cost by reducing the cost of cooling and warming the house.
  • It is an excellent building material for insulation as its thermal conductivity is relatively much lesser than that of aluminum.
  • It is highly durable with low thermal expansion and contraction. Hence it minimizes leakage, and is also resistant to corrosion.
  • Has superior strength with high strength to weight ratio.
  • It has very low impact on environment as it is made of silica sand that is readily available.
  • Though initially it costs higher than a material like aluminum, it has very low maintenance cost.

Though fiberglass might offer several benefits, caution has to be exercised due to the health risks associated with its use. Every industry dealing with this material has its own guidelines and safety measures, depending on the material used and the nature of work. In short, every industry has their own standards of workplace safety. The main health risk arises from direct contact with the fibers during installation, rather than after the completion of insulation work. The main health risk of working with large fibers are eye irritation, skin itching and redness. Also, the resin used with the rolls and blankets could cause eye irritation, kidney diseases, and cancer. The smaller fiber particles which are airborne pose the danger of lung irritation and injury.

Ways to Reduce Risks
Here are some of the safety measures that are followed across the industry:
  • Wear a hat to prevent the fibers from getting into your hair.
  • Wear boots, or long socks with pants tucked inside to protect your feet.
  • Wear a paper-based mask to avoid inhaling the fibers through mouth and nose.
  • Wear safety goggles to protect the eyes, especially during fiberglass roofing.
  • Wear gloves, loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothes to avoid direct contact of fiber with the skin.
Though there are several long-term health risks of working with fiberglass, it is considered to be safer than asbestos. Experts believe that safe handling of these materials is the best way to reduce the risks. Also, care should be taken by keeping the room properly ventilated, to avoid deliberately inhaling resin or hardener that are used with this material.