The Health Hazards Of Fibreglass Exposure During Demolition

A building collapsing in a cloud of dust during a controlled demolition, which is a potential risk of fibreglass exposure and needs to follow strict safety precautions to limit harm.


Safety must always be a priority on demolition sites, with personnel exposed to a range of hazards, including falling debris, electrical fixtures, and excessive noise. While dust poses a risk to workers, asbestos is often the main point of focus due to its invasive potential. A substance less commonly considered is fibreglass, a common material used for insulation which, although less hazardous than asbestos, can adversely affect human health.

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In this article, we’ll explore the risks that fibreglass poses to construction and demolition workers and how Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) can help to mitigate the dangers.

Is Fibreglass Insulation Hazardous?

Fibreglass is widely used for insulation due to its lightweight and thermal properties, but during demolition, it can become hazardous to workers. When removed from a building it can get damaged, releasing dust particles into the air. Long-term exposure to fibreglass dust is a concern and has the potential to lead to serious respiratory conditions. Although research on the long-term health effects is inconclusive, the immediate impact of inhaling fibreglass particles is well-documented. Workers often report unpleasant symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and a sore throat. These symptoms, while usually temporary, can be uncomfortable and are a sign of the adverse reactions experienced by the body when exposed to larger fibreglass particles. Smaller particles, small enough not to irritate the throat or respiratory tract may go unnoticed and penetrate deep into the lungs, where even if they are not thought to be toxic, they may cause physical damage to the delicate lung lining resulting in long-term illnesses such as COPD several years after exposure.

Risks For Individuals With Pre-Existing Conditions

The risks of fibreglass exposure are higher for individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). For these workers, exposure to fibreglass dust can exacerbate their symptoms, potentially leading to more severe respiratory distress. Therefore, it is essential to understand and mitigate fibreglass exposure in demolition.

The Significance Of Particle Size

The size of fibreglass particles plays a significant role in their impact on workers' health. Smaller particles are more likely to bypass the body's natural defences and reach deep into the lungs where they can irritate the tissue and provoke a symptomatic response. Larger particles, on the other hand, may be trapped in the nose and throat, causing irritation and discomfort.

The Importance Of Appropriate Respiratory Protection

Using the right type of demolition respirator is vital for protection against fibreglass dust. For demolition activities where the substance is suspected or known to exist, it is recommended to use an FFP3 respirator or equivalent as a minimum. The “P3” filtration is considered the most effective filtration for all types of particulate hazards, including fibreglass insulation. Respirators fitted with P3 filters are high-grade protective masks designed to filter out fine particles, including fibreglass dust. The filter should remove at least 99% of the dust particles from the air, but this does not mean the wearer is 99% protected! The overall level of protection will depend on the quality of the seal of the mask to the face of the wearer. If the respirator is of the tight fitting type, it is critical that a mask fit test for the make and model of the mask has been undertaken, the wearer is clean shaven (where the mask is in contact with their skin) AND the mask is new or properly maintained and tested. Even if all of this is true, the predicted protection factor of a half mask with P3 filtration is still only APF20, meaning that it is expected that the wearer will still be exposed to up to 5% of the dust in the air. Powered air respirators that do not seal the face often only provide an equivalent level of protection, and this is on the basis that the wearer is not too physically active and breathing heavily.

Find Out More

If you would like a review of your existing respiratory protection, mask fit testing, wearer training, or equipment maintenance or more information about our range of FFP3 and other respirators suitable for demolition, please get in touch with the experts at Fire Safe International today.

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