Adding insulation to a commercial or residential structure not only reduces noise from the outside but helps control humidity levels better. In addition to increasing comfort, it saves money by closing the structure’s envelope in areas where energy is lost, and utility costs are increasing. Insulation provides a barrier to natural heat exchange when its hot outside and cool inside, or hot inside and cool outside. However, insulation workers that handle and install insulating materials are often exposed to serious health hazards when working with products with known dangers.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, insulation workers are subjected to serious hazards in the workplace that include exposure to chemicals, fire, confined spaces, respiratory issues, electrical shock, ventilation, and falls. Most these hazards are based on the type of material used to insulate in the areas in the structure when the insulation is applied. In detail, it involves:
- Fiberglass Insulation – Fiberglass is proven to be a highly effective insulation because it serves as a heat barrier and minimizes energy waste. However, working with and installing insulation in residential and commercial properties tend to cause significant irritation to the respiratory tract, eyes and skin. Installers should wear long pants, long sleeve shirts, head covering, and gloves to provide a barrier against skin, throat and eyes. It is also advised to wear respiratory protection and eye protection to minimize exposure to airborne fiberglass particles.
- Cellulose Insulation – Cellulose material has been used to insulate buildings longer than any other product. Applications include both wet cellulose and dry cellulose. However, the material is a known respiratory irritant. The Bureau of Labor recommends wearing appropriate dust respirators when handling the material at any stage in the manufacturing and application process. Cellulose that has not been treated with fire chemical-laced retardants can be highly flammable.
- Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation – This material foam is an effective insulation option for retrofitting older structures. However, the product contains isocyanates, that research has linked to the development of work-related asthma conditions.
- Polystyrene Insulation – This effective spray-on application works similarly to spray polyurethane foam. However, the styrene formulated in the product has been linked to serious airborne conditions when inhaled. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has identified the material as having unique flammable hazards including being a highly combustible liquid.
- Latex Sealant – This product is typically applied together with fiberglass batting to ensure a complete seal. However, the chemical properties of latex have been linked to serious allergic skin reactions and respiratory problems. OSHA highly recommends workers wear respiratory protection (respirators) and PPE (proper protective equipment) to prevent direct contact with eyes and skin and exposure through inhalation.
Insulation Worker Wages
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016 data concerning the employment statistics of the previous year, there were 980 insulation workers employed in the Chicago, Naperville and Arlington Heights metropolitan area.
On average, insulation workers in northeastern Illinois earn $36,060 every year (mean wage), or $17.34 per hour, which is significantly lower than the national averages. See Chart
Severe Accidents and Fatalities
The Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration has identified specific incidences that harmed or took the lives of individuals insulating structures using isocyanate containing materials. The incidents include:
- Case 1: An insulation installer working in Springfield, Massachusetts lost his life in a home attic fire after the spray foam chemicals being applied to the area combusted into a fire without warning. An investigation concluded that spray chemical vapors were the cause of the fire that quickly engulfed the confined area. The intensity of the fire was so severe in the few moments after the material ignited that other employees on the job site were unable to pull the victim to safety at all. Even firefighters could not reach the victim using a ladder. After firefighters were finally successful at pulling the man out of the attic, CPR efforts were unsuccessful.
- Case 2: A maintenance employee developed serious respiratory problems after repairing a system that was manufacturing polyurethane foam. An investigation linked the man’s symptoms to exposure to isocyanates used in the manufacturing process. Investigators detected elevated levels of concentrated chemicals in the workplace in an environment that lacked proper ventilation and skin protection. The employee was no longer able to work after doctors diagnosed him with isocyanate-induced hypersensitivity pneumonitis (a lung alveoli inflammation). Years later the man still suffered exposure-related symptoms that included muscle aches, sweats, weakness, persistent cough, loss of lung function and shortness of breath until his eventual illness-related death.
- Case 3: A job-associated asthma attack claimed the life of a worker who was spraying a methylene diphenyl diisocyanate-based insulation bed liner on the interior of a vehicle. Even though the employee was wearing a respirator that supplied air along with coveralls and latex gloves, he was still overcome with fumes. Investigators determined that the worker was spraying the material in a room that had no exhaust ventilation. The acute-respiratory attack occurred after the worker left the room. The man was transported to the local hospital before going into cardiac arrest and eventually succumbed to the attack. The coroner identified the cause of death as “acute asthmatic reaction due to inhalation of chemicals."
How Workers Can Protect Themselves
Not every injury related to installing or manufacturing insulation materials is obvious. This is a problem because many products contain the harmful chemicals and properties of isocyanates and other dangerous materials. This partial list of dangerous products include:
- Automotive insulation, glue, paint, fiber bonding, sealant, and bed linings,
- Foundry cores,
- Lacquer paints,
- Cable insulation used in electronics and electrical wires,
- Coated circuit boards,
- Building and construction materials including filters, insulation, glue, and sealants,
- Synthetic textile fibers,
- Furniture constructed with upholstery stuffing, lacquers, adhesives and fabric,
- Insulating materials and sealants used in the mining industry,
- Printing lacquers and inks,
- Hard and soft plastics, cellular plastic and plastic foam,
- Packaging materials and lacquers used in the food industry.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined acceptable levels of isocyanates and has set specific limits that protect the health of workers exposed to the dangerous chemical. Common side effects of overexposure include skin and mucous membrane irritation, chest tightness, and difficulty with breathing. Effective steps to minimize potential exposure include:
- Avoid Confined Space – A restricted or limited area in a confined space that only has ingress or egress should not be used for continuous occupancy. Avoid using toxic chemicals or inhaling dangerous chemical fumes while working in tanks, underground areas, manholes, storage bin, silos, pits, pipelines, and vessels.
- Avoid Hazardous Atmospheres – OSHA considers a confined space as a characteristic of an area with a hazardous atmosphere in an enclosed area that can asphyxiate the worker or place the worker in dangerous situations. The situations could include working around exposed electrical live wires and unguarded machinery or staying in the hot environment that could cause heat stress.
- Avoid Asbestos Insulation – This type of insulation has been used since the early 1900s due to its fire-resistant properties, long-term durability, and low cost. However, in recent years, asbestos properties have been proven to cause mesothelioma, a fatal lung cancer. While insulation workers no longer install asbestos insulation, construction workers performing demolition can be exposed to the fibers directly on the skin or through airborne particulates that can be inhaled.
- Avoid Falling – Certain environments were insulation is sprayed on or blown in could expose workers to falling hazards. Working around electrical powerlines and long hoses can create a hazard where trip and fall accidents can occur on scaffolding, platforms, stairways, attics and flat surfaces.
- Avoid Potential Electrocution – Insulation workers are often exposed to potential hazards involving electricity lines that could produce arc flashes or electrocution hazards. Additionally, electrical lines can cause ignition or sparking of flammable chemical vapors like ‘off-gassing’ from styrene materials.
- Avoid Airborne Chemicals – Spray on and blown on chemically-laced insulation applications expose workers to skin sensitization and irritation. In addition to exposure to isocyanates, the worker might also be working in atmospheres containing chemical dust and vapors. OSHA recommend wearing a full-face respirator that has a cartridge filter to absorb hazardous vapor.
- Use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) – PPE safeguards include arm protection, eye protection, and body protection, where workers where coated material, tight fitting safety glasses and protective gloves that are resistant to chemicals. Additionally, employers should provide safety showers and eyewash fountains that should be made readily available at the job site. Any clothing or equipment that has been contaminated by methylene diphenyl diisocyanate or other dangerous chemical should be cleaned thoroughly or disposed according to safe practices.
- Use Engineering Controls – OSHA mandates that specific working areas use engineering controls to reduce exposing workers and others to isocyanates and other air contaminants. Additionally, any area being sprayed with chemical-laced materials should be separated away from other areas in the structure. Confined fumes that could easily spread to other areas can then be redirected away from the structure using fans (air handlers) while moving cleaner air into the area.
- Follow Fire Safety Measures – Never work in an environment that has open flames or ignition sources that could combust fumes off-gassing from the material brought to the worksite. When working with any flammable material, the worker’s supervisor, manager, owner, or foreman must follow a strict plan on how to handle fires and implement effective escape measures to ensure everyone’s safety.
- Follow Medical and First Aid Measures – Severe injuries on the job site often require immediate medical attention and first-aid care. To ensure worker safety, there should be at least one trained first-aid provider on-site who renders care as a part of their job duties.
Asbestos Insulation Can Cause Mesothelioma
For well over 100 years, many old homes throughout the United States have stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer through asbestos insulation, a proven carcinogenic. While the presence of asbestos does not mean occupants inside the structure will develop lung cancer, including mesothelioma. However, any exposure to asbestos fibers and airborne particulates could increase the risk.
Malignant mesothelioma is a rare, but fatal cancer that is highly resistant to common cancer treatments. The extremely aggressive disease usually develops from exposure to asbestos fibers, dust and particles. Most individuals with mesothelioma are diagnosed with a plural type of the disease that initially develops in the chest. Over time, the condition will metastasize and spread to other areas of the body including the brain. Nearly three-quarters of all mesothelioma cases are diagnosed as plural. Thousands of deaths are associated with asbestos-related exposure every year in the United States.
Insulation workers and demolition teams are at the greatest risk of exposure to asbestos fibers when working in older homes. Many of these fibers are released into the air during the movement of insulation containing amosite and chrysotile asbestos. Insulation was first developed using these materials because of their fire-resistant properties. It was not until study results performed in the late 1950s revealed serious health hazards associated with the product.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the top occupations associated with exposure to asbestos fibers and the development of mesothelioma include:
- Insulation workers including installers and manufacturers
- Chemical engineers
- Chemical technicians
- Steamfitters, pipefitters, plumbers, and pipe layers
- Sheetmetal workers
in most cases, the development of mesothelioma can take at least two decades to appear after the individual was initially exposed to asbestos fibers, dust or particulates. Even though numerous federal agencies have regulated workplaces and demolition job sites in how to handle asbestos, life-threatening problems still occur. Typically, individuals experiencing the warning signs of developing mesothelioma will deal with:
- Difficulty in breathing
- Trouble swallowing
- Persistent coughing
- The buildup of swelling and fluid in the abdomen
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive sweating
- Irregular heart rate
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pain radiating from the rib cage
Mesothelioma tends to mimic other conditions, making it difficult for diagnosticians to quickly identify the disease. In many cases, mesothelioma is confused with various other illnesses including other forms of cancer. Typically, insulation workers diagnosed with mesothelioma or other respiratory condition undergo grueling and financially burdensome treatments that can quickly overwhelm the family savings account.
Contact Attorneys Experienced With Representing Injured Insulation Workers
If you or your loved one was recently injured or suffered harm in an insulation worker accident or exposure incident, you may be entitled to receive monetary compensation. The skilled Chicago workplace accident injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers have extensive skills of successfully resolving job-related personal injury claims. Let our team of attorneys assist you in obtaining maximum worker’s compensation benefits and additional funds from other parties that might also be at fault for your damages.
Our attorneys will ensure that you receive adequate financial compensation to pay for any past, current and future medical expenses, lost wages, temporary or permanent physical disabilities, suffering, pain, and emotional trauma. Our attorneys remain committed to providing the best, personalized legal service that produces the ideal successful result.
Contact An Insulation Installer Workers Compensation & Injury Law Firm
Call us today at (888) 424-5757 to schedule an appointment to speak with one of our reputable lawyers. Our law firm accepts every compensation claim and wrongful death lawsuit through contingency fee arrangements. With this agreement, we will postpone payment of your legal fees until after our attorneys have successfully resolved your case at trial or through a negotiated out of court settlement. You owe us nothing if we do not win! Ask about our “No Win/No Fee" Guarantee!