Insulators are responsible for installing, maintaining and replacing thermal insulation materials used in conjunction with heating and process equipment at residential, commercial and industrial sites. This type of work puts insulators at an increased risk of asbestos exposure in comparison with other occupations.
Because of its high heat tolerance, asbestos was used in insulation for covering pipes, boilers, turbines, vessels, heat exchangers and other equipment. Until the 1980s, asbestos was a common component of various kinds of pipe covering, block insulation and insulating cement – all of which insulators worked in close contact with daily.
Asbestos insulation becomes particularly dangerous when it is disturbed during original construction, maintenance and demolition. To get the asbestos insulation into place, insulators first have to cut the insulation with handsaws and knives. Then, they seal insulated surfaces or access holes with plastic covers, canvas strips, sealants, tape, cement or asphalt mastic. Insulators also needed to mix asbestos-containing dry cement and drill into or tear out hardened asbestos materials, creating additional opportunities for high levels of exposure.