Refractory workers – those who build or work around insulation, furnaces and kilns – may be at greater risk of developing mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer. This is because refractory ceramic fibers (RCFs) can be inhaled, and some studies have shown adverse respiratory effects, including mesothelioma, from their inhalation.
RCFs are often used in high-temperature applications across a variety of industries, especially when a lightweight insulation is needed that can withstand high temperatures. This includes applications such as:
- Furnace and kiln insulation
- Fire protection
- Steelmaking and metals processing
- Heat treating
- Glass and ceramics
- Chemical and petrochemical
- Automotive exhaust systems
- Aerospace applications
- Power generation
- Domestic appliances
RCFs are man-made amorphous or crystalline fibers. They are typically created by melting and spinning silicon oxide, aluminum oxide and other metal oxides. They provide low thermal connectivity and high thermal shock resistance.
That makes RCFs useful in furnace linings, ladle covers, heat curtains and mold linings, for example. They can protect workers, property and equipment from excess heat, improve the efficiency of furnaces and related equipment and reduce energy usage.
RCFs are not without their hazards, however, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Nevertheless, OSHA has not yet set a standard for exposure. Instead, it relies on a permissible exposure limit of 15 mg/m3 (5 mg/m3 respirable), 8-hour total weight average.
Employers should limit workers’ exposure to RCFs through material handling practices and personal protective equipment (PPE). For example:
- The use of power tools should be limited around RCFs to prevent the fibers from becoming airborne. If power tools must be used (instead of hand tools), they should be used in conjunction with local exhaust ventilation.
- The material should not be dragged or exposed to rough surfaces while handling and during transport.
- After cutting or machining RCFs, local exhaust ventilation should be brushed or vacuumed with a HEPA filter.
- Never use compressed air to clean up RCFs or work areas. Clean the work areas with a HEPA vacuum. If the room must be swept, use a moist sweeping method to keep dust down.
- Clear away waste insulation and clean the work areas regularly.
- If engineering controls are insufficient, have workers wear gloves and protective clothing to avoid skin contact. The fibrous particles tend to remain suspended in the air and accumulate on hard surfaces.
- The clothing should not be taken where others could be exposed to the fibers.
- Workers should use safety glasses or goggles.
- Workers should use a particulate respirator with a minimum filter efficiency of 95%. An integrated respiratory protection system may be preferred.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may have legal rights to protect. Talk to Sieben Polk P.A. to learn more. Call 651-377-4740.