We have all heard about the dangers of electricity but what about the hidden dangers faced by electricians in the building industry?

Off-gassing is a serious problem. It occurs after manufacturing, when gasses trapped in a product are slowly released. This becomes problematic when inhaled in a closed environment where air is recirculated, such as a factory, roof space or truck. Electrical wiring and conduits are usually made from vinyl chloride, which off-gasses plasticisers (or phthalates), dioxins and solvents. There is a serious concern that these are harmful to human health.

In addition to the dangers of off-gassing, the inhalation of airborne particulates generated by cutting, sawing and grinding electrical cables or conduits presents a significant health hazard. Furthermore, inhalation of fumes from PVC jointing cement, which contains highly aromatic solvents, has been attributed to respiratory and neurological disorders.

According to the Vinyl Council of Australia, “studies in Australia, the US, UK and the Netherlands have shown that only very small amounts of dioxin can be attributed to VCM (Vinyl Chloride Monomer – the key material from which PVC is made) or PVC (polyvinyl chloride) production,” but dioxin is present nonetheless.

Additionally, pthalates are added to make the product flexible. According to the Vinyl Council, “phthalates generally do not have significant effects on the female hormone, oestrogen” but may affect the male hormone.

“There is (also) some concern about some specific human exposures to DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate), a LMW (Low Molecular Weight) phthalate,” the council says.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Occupational exposure to vinyl chloride may occur in those workers concerned with the production, use, transport, storage, and disposal of the chemical… Testicular damage and decreased male fertility have been reported in rats exposed to low levels for up to 12 months.”

Additionally, the EPA has classified vinyl chloride as a Group A, human carcinogen.

Electrician checks out conduit 1

A urine or body tissue test can detect levels of vinyl chloride, but the tests are not reliable indicators of total exposure. It is advisable that those exposed to off-gassing products or particulates from these products, always work in well-ventilated spaces and confine products to airtight containers.

The National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA), is a great resource for advice on health and safety in the workplace and is also known to be helpful in lobbying for better conditions and addressing incidents such as illness caused by toxicity exposure in the workplace.

There is a common argument in the industry that product X is not as bad as product Y, so product X should be used instead. This argument is devoid of logic, as we should be looking for the 100 per cent safe product Z. The argument that X is cheaper than Z is also illogical and many of those exposed to asbestos are now regretting placing cost before safety.

There are now products in the industry that are proven to be 100 per cent safe and it’s about time we started using them, regardless of cost. A quick internet search for environmentally friendly electrical conduits brings up an Australian firm that is manufacturing in NSW. Additionally, Apple is no longer using PVC cabling in any of its products.

If alternatives are now available why take an unnecessary risk?