Environmental Protection

EU-OSHA Guides Cover OSH Hazards in Green Building

Re-insulating or retrofitting older buildings can expose workers to a variety of respiratory hazards.

EU-OSHA has published two guides on the occupational safety and health risks associated with domestic, small-scale solar energy applications and the construction of green buildings. Each publication comes with hazard identification checklists to aid in starting a workplace risk assessment. The guides were released ahead of the 2013 Green week edition, the biggest annual conference on European environment policy, taking place June 4-7 in Brussels. Their names are "OSH and small scale solar energy applications" and "Occupational safety and health issues associated with green building."

"Because green buildings are often tightly sealed and more thoroughly insulated in order to save energy, ventilation may be reduced during internal finishing work. This may increase exposure to volatile organic compounds from, for example, paints or adhesives, and to dust, including crystalline silica," one says. "The re-insulation of existing buildings may bring about exposure to conventional insulation materials, such as man-made mineral fibres (glass wool, rock wool). Cutting or sawing these materials releases fibres. Exposure to these fibres may lead to dermatitis, eye irritation and airway disease such as bronchitis or asthma. Alternatively, polyurethane foam is often used. These contain isocyanates, which can cause (allergic) asthma, irritation of the respiratory track and mucous membranes of the eyes and gastrointestinal track, and contact dermatitis. In many cases, one-pack systems that contain limited free isocyanate are used. However, two-pack systems are still used for insulation of floors, walls and roofs7. These are mixed on site and, consequently, exposure to isocyanates is considerably higher than when using one-pack products, because the concentrated isocyanate-hardener is added manually. Thus, isocyanate vapours become airborne, while control measures such as local exhaust ventilation are usually lacking at construction sites. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that construction workers who sprayed polyurethane foam insulation on a roof were exposed to isocyanate concentrations exceeding the occupational exposure limits."

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