Toxic Hazards for Installers in Retrofits

In this section we look at toxic chemicals installers may face when retrofitting a home. Typically, the hazards equal or are greater than those facing residents as installers are exposed to more intense off-gassing during the initial application of a product or material. Installers also have more direct contact with many materials that residents do.

While recommended protections are listed, always look at the manufacturer’s directions, especially those for personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilation requirements. But remember, while PPE offers some level of protection, the best protection is eliminating the possibility of exposure at all.

Protective equipment should be the last stand in protecting against chemical exposure. The hierarchy of steps to protect installers always should be, in order of most effective to least:

  1. Elimination: Buy products without the chemical, and if not available, start complaining to manufacturers and demanding safer products.
  2. Substitution: Buy products with alternative chemicals. These may end up being regrettable substitutions that have the same health impacts, but also could be an improvement. We just don’t know.
  3. Engineering: Isolate workers from the chemical hazard. Is there some other way to get the work done? Not very practical in installation work.
  4. Work Practices: Change how the work is performed, for example limit time of painting for each individual worker.
  5. Personal Protective Equipment: Examples include respirators or masks, gloves, eye protection, and protective clothing. But if any of these items fail – or the installer does not know to wear them or chooses not to wear them, the hazard is still there.

Please note that this section only covers potential toxic chemical exposure and not the general safety precautions that should be taken while engaging in construction work, such as confined spaces and fall hazards.

Below are links to each product category.

Insulation

Sealants

Paints and Wallcoverings

Flooring

Windows, Doors, and Skylights