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Contractor Guide: Insulation Respiratory Protection Information

Insulation Mask

When you work in contracting, you expect to breath in some junk on occasion. But when it comes to insulation, a little can go a long way. Whether it's chemicals, irritants or other harmful substances, having the proper respiratory protection when insulating can help protect your lungs. Here's our guide on respiratory PPE, what type is used in what situation and what the drawbacks are of any particular piece of equipment.

Insulation Types

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  • Fiberglass Insulation - For the most part, fiberglass is one of the serious concerns in insulation and weatherization processes. If fiberglass is released into the air during cutting or rough handling, it can be drawn into the lungs, where it causes mechanical irritation and has been linked by several agencies to cancer.
  • Sprayed Polyurethane Foam - With the increased interest in spray foam, polyurethane is being used by new applicators who may have not had sufficient training on safety. Because this type of foam releases isocyanates, a chemical vapor that is one of the top causes of workplace-related asthma, proper care must be taken to provide ventilation and appropriate respiratory equipment.
  • Cellulose - Cellulose is the oldest type of insulation mentioned in this guide, but that doesn't mean it's harmless. It can cause significant mechanical irritation due to dust. A dust respirator is important when blowing in dry cellulose to prevent it from being inhaled.
  • Sprayed Polystyrene - When polystyrene is sprayed into a cavity, it can release styrene. Styrene has been linked to various chemical issues, including respiratory irritation and neurological effects, so having a proper chemical respirator is vital to protect your workers' health. Keep in mind that, much like sprayed polyurethane foam, sprayed polystyrene may aerosolize to a certain extent if an aggressive application approach is used, making a respirator doubly necessary.
  • Latex-Based Sealant - Though most people don't have any issues with latex sealants, people with a sensitivity or allergy to latex may find that they have problems with respiratory irritation and allergic reactions when using this type of sealant. Care should be taken by these individuals to avoid contact with the substance and to wear an appropriate respirator during application.

Types of Respirators

As you can see, most issues are related to either mechanical, chemical or sensitivity to a particular material. There are a few different options to consider for protection, but they must meet the particular problem related to the material.

Contractor Dust Mask
  • Half-Face N95 Masks - These types of particulate masks will provide a variety of fits, from essentially a sheet of filter held in place by ear straps that is only protecting against something blown directly against the face to a good, adjustable fit over the nose and multiple straps to keep the respirator fit tightly to the face. Areas to consider are whether the work environment will cause safety glasses to fog up, in which case looking for a one-way valve on the respirator is handy.
  • Single or Dual Cartridge Respirators - These respirators can use a wide range of different cartridges to meet different concerns. They work well for both mechanical and chemical irritants. They tend to be built more strongly than half-face masks and provide a much better seal and fewer points of failure than the half-face masks. They are available to use either with separate safety glasses in a half-mask form or in a full-face mask that includes eye protection.
  • Powered, Supplied and SCBA Respirators - Though these aren't usually incorporated with installations, they are sometimes required in retrofit situations where air quality, asbestos or similar concerns are present. These provide forced air, air from a supply line or independently tanked air.

By making sure you and your crew have the right respiratory protection equipment for your insulation job, you can help ensure you'll be able to keep working for years to come in good health. If you need more safety information download our free Safety and Health Brochure below.

Safety and Health Brochure CTA

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Wallboard Supply Company is a third generation, family run business that has been serving New England's building needs since 1970. Bob Filion started the company with a commitment to provide quality drywall and finishing products with unmatched customer service. The company has grown over the years, expanding its' product range, but never wavering from its' core values.