HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
Nowadays, you can’t go anywhere without finding it used, whether it’s at hospitals, homes, schools, factories or commercial buildings, everywhere has an HVAC system. In fact, it makes up around 40 to 60 percent of all the energy use for commercial buildings, which goes to show its importance. A technician may not necessarily consider it, but he often has his life endangered when working on these buildings.
Every site will have its own unique set of hazards that technicians must stay alert to if they want to stay safe. For example, some of the air conditioning systems will be found on the roof of the building. This means climbing a ladder. Electrocution is another one of the dangers to personnel, and they could also be exposed to chemicals like refrigerants too. A technician will also always have to be alert to the possibility of sharp edges around the air conditioning unit because scrapes, cuts and bruises can all be a threat to a technician.
One of the unspoken dangers of being a technician is how you often come into contact with asbestos-related products while on the job. It’s an unfortunate fact of doing this type of work. Many times, you will encounter it with the air ducts because they will be wrapped with insulation that has been sprayed with asbestos.
Why the Trouble
Before the 1970s, asbestos-related products were widely used throughout a number of industries. It was a popular substance because of its resistance to heat and fire. This made it a popular material, but most people never realized how dangerous this substance was until after the 1970s.
The problem comes because of how many buildings now have installed this material. When a technician goes to work on a repair with an HVAC system, they sometimes get exposed to the fibers. Breathing in these contaminants can lead to long-term health problems. While they almost never manifest themselves immediately, researchers have proven a link between asbestos-related products and mesothelioma. It is possible for technicians to start feeling ill without realizing why they feel ill. The health problems might not even show up for 20 years before they start to become life-threatening diseases.
What Products Do Technicians Handle?
Typically, a technician will handle a variety of products but thermal insulation is one of the big ones that they will come into contact with. You will find this around the boilers, water piping, and furnace. Usually, you can find the contaminants close to the ventilation or ceiling and flooring tiles. Building materials, in general, can be a threat because of how if they were constructed before the 1970s, they will often have these dangerous products in them.
Exposure While on the Job
Many times technicians will work in indoor spaces, and this can leave them open to getting exposed to asbestos-based insulation. This is mainly where it will come from. However, even a normal maintenance job can turn into a period where they inhale asbestos-based fibers. Another danger is when they open up a panel or a compartment because of how they could disturb the fibers.
Another danger is how technicians often carry heavy things while working on a project. If they happen to damage a tile or the ceiling or walls, it can lead to disturbing the contaminants and breathing them in.
What Science Has to Say
One of the world’s biggest vermiculite mines exists in Libby, Montana. Benjamin Wake is an industrial hygienist, and when he visited Zonolite Company in Libby, Montana, what he found was quite shocking. He took samples of the asbestos-based fibers in 1956. The dust contained anywhere from eight percent to 21 percent asbestos-based particles. When he came back in 1962, he discovered how the dust had 40 percent dust that was tremolite asbestos, which is a known hazard to anyone’s health. When technicians are working on sites with asbestos-based cement and acoustical plaster, these are some of the places where it comes from.
A few different lawsuits have been filed over the years from technicians who work on air conditioning. In fact, James Morrison filed a lawsuit against Copeland Refrigerator Company after he had developed mesothelioma as a result. Morrison had worked for the company from the 1970s to the 1980s, and he pinpointed this work as a direct result of his cancer. The jury heard his case and awarded him $5,150,000. Another lawsuit of this nature was filed against Sprinkman Insulation.
A man who had been working as a contractor had developed cancer and died as a result. The family sued, and they were awarded $1.5 million. These are some of the common cases that can arise when a person gets exposed to asbestos-based products and develops diseases from it as a result.