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Safer Choice

Safer Workplace Practices for Spray Polyurethane Foam Installation

Safer work practices should be in place to avoid exposure at every stage of spray polyurethane foam (SPF) installation. Building occupants and other trade workers not involved in the SPF installation should vacate the premises during installation of various types of SPF products in consultation with the contractor.

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For homeowners, school administrators, and other building occupants

Homeowners, school administrators, other building occupants and decision-makers should be informed about the products they are having installed on their property. Follow these steps to play your part in helping prevent exposures to the chemicals in SPF products.

  • Do research when selecting a contractor:
  • Discuss re-occupancy guidance with your contractor before the job has started:

Read more information about what to expect when having SPF installedExit

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For do-it-yourselfers

The two-component high-pressure kit is a professional system and should only be used by a trained applicator. Two-component low-pressure kits and one-component foam are also used by professional applicators, largely for air sealant purposes or to fill holes and gaps; however, these types of products are often referred to as "DIY" products because they are available for do-it-yourself (DIY) applicators, but note that the same precautions should be taken as with professional-use.

Homeowners who decide to conduct a do-it-yourself project using the two-component low-pressure kit or the one-component can of spray foam should educate themselves on safe work practices, techniques, and precautions that professionals would use. You have the ultimate responsibility for the health and safety of yourself, your family or those in your care.

  • Become informed of potential health effects and safe handling procedures for chemicals and products you are using.
  • Consider whether use of these products is appropriate or whether you should consider having a trained professional install the products.
  • Individuals with a history of skin conditions, respiratory allergies, asthma, or prior isocyanate sensitization should carefully review product information when considering the use of SPF products and may want to consider safer alternatives. Read more about health concerns.
  • Manufacturers recommend in their isocyanate safety data sheets that individuals undergo medical surveillance prior to working with these materials and individuals with a history of medical conditions as described above will be restricted from work with isocyanates.
  • Note, these products are inappropriate for "creative" uses such as science or art projects and should not be used around children.

Read more information on the types of SPF products and applications and read the material safety data sheet and product information for proper procedures and appropriate protection specific to each type of application.

Read more information about the variability of curing rates.

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For contractors, applicators, and weatherization workers

To prevent chemical exposures during and after installation, SPF applicators and helpers should use "best practices" based on the type of SPF product applied as recommended by the manufacturer, including:

Training and comprehension

Preparation

  • Receive medical surveillance to ensure applicators and helpers are healthy enough to wear a respirator.
  • Vacate building occupants and other trade workers who are unprotected.
  • Read the manufacturer's label and safety data sheet (SDS) and follow directions to achieve consistent curing conditions and times.
  • Handle and store raw chemical ingredients properly at all times to avoid chemical exposure.

Spraying, streaming, or beading application process

  • Isolate the work site to prevent isocyanates and other chemical vapors from spreading to other rooms or floors.
  • Make sure workers wear protective equipment at all times to avoid exposure to vapor, mist, particulates and dust, including
    • Appropriate respirator
    • Chemical resistant (e.g., nitrile) gloves
    • Chemical resistant clothing
  • Ventilate the work area.

Trimming of foam

  • Make sure workers wear personal protective equipment while cutting and scraping foam to avoid exposure to dust and particles that may contain isocyanates.

Clean up after preparation, application, and trimming

  • Clean the work site thoroughly to avoid exposing other workers and building occupants to dust and particles that may contain isocyanates and other SPF chemicals.
  • Remove protective clothing and handle with care to avoid exposing yourself and others to toxic chemicals.

Re-occupancy

These "best practices" are a starting point to help professional applicators use SPF products more safely; this Web site will be updated with more specifics on "best practices" as EPA identifies and/or develops them.

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Models for exposure prevention to chemicals in SPF

OSHA requires that workers be trained so that they are aware of the potential hazards and follow safe work practices. No one should be permitted in the work site during installation of SPF except workers who are wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. Training should include protection of applicators, and any potentially exposed workers, including other workers at the job site or workers re-entering the job site. EPA strongly recommends that building occupants receive clear guidance from the contractor on safe re-entry times in advance of the work to ensure there will be no exposure to SPF chemicals.

  • In January 2008, NIOSH followed up the 2006 Alert with a poster, called “Got Everything Covered?,” that provides helpful tips on protecting workers from the hazards of isocyanate exposure during spray-on truck bed liner applications.
  • EPA's Design for the Environment Program, through its Automotive Refinishing Partnership, has developed numerous health and safety materials, including a Self-Evaluation Checklist of Best Practices, which helps businesses, vocational schools, and community colleges evaluate current practices and identify areas where improvements can be made to protect workers, students, and surrounding communities from isocyanates and other toxic chemicals. This approach provides a model for similar risk-management activities in other sectors with isocyanate exposures, e.g., spray polyurethane foam installation.

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Checklists and self-evaluation tool

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Other resources

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Return to the spray polyurethane foam (SPF) index page.