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Going with the Flow: 7 Common Issues with Respirators on Blast Jobs


By Kevin Guth

Over the course of more than 20 years performing third-party health and safety audits of industrial abrasive blasting and painting contractors, I have noticed a recurring theme: Respiratory protection plans are rarely properly implemented in accordance with the written plans that I have reviewed. In the same vein, annual evaluations are rarely conducted to measure the effectiveness of the written plans by a qualified professional.

I am sure not many people will be surprised by this finding, yet this is a pervasive issue in the industry. I once had an owner of a painting firm ask me: “Don’t you just put on the respirator and go to work?”

No. There are many steps you must follow.

Abrasive blasting
Photos courtesy of the author

Failure to implement and evaluate one’s written respiratory protection plan increases the risk of those employees developing an occupational injury and/or occupational illness.

Whether it is lack of training, general apathy on the topic from those impacted in the industry or some other reason, the ball regarding compliance with OSHA respiratory protection requirements is being dropped.

The primary route of exposure for industrial abrasive blasters and painters is through inhalation. Therefore, failure to implement and evaluate one’s written respiratory protection plan increases the risk of those employees developing an occupational injury and/or occupational illness.

Top 7 Findings from Field Audits

Rather than delve into how to properly implement and evaluate a respiratory protection plan, I believe sharing the top recurring respiratory protection issues I have identified over the years with the use of Type CE Continuous Flow respirators (abrasive blast hoods) during abrasive blasting will provide more value. The top 7 issues are as follows:

1. Not ensuring Grade D breathing air

Grade D refers to breathing air quality established by the Compressed Gas Association (CGA G-7.1) that must be provided to those who wear the Type CE continuous flow respirator. Issues related to Grade D breathing air for those using oil-lubricated compressors include:

  • A carbon monoxide monitor was either not installed or, if it was installed, was not calibrated.
  • If using a high-temperature alarm, it was not working properly or had not been installed at all.
  • The air line filter had not been installed, or the filter simply had not been changed out in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

2. Abrasive blast hood left in the containment

If you are one of those firms where this is a standard practice (note: it is more common than you might think), consider that whatever you have been abrasive blasting off the steel structure, combined with the contents of the abrasive blast media, will settle into the respirator.

Abrasive blasting

Blast hoods should never be left inside the containment, lest the blaster be exposed to whatever contaminants have settled in the hood.

When the compressor is started for the next shift, the abrasive blaster will receive an exposure to whatever has settled into the abrasive blast hood. From a logistics and cost standpoint, I understand why abrasive blast hoods are left inside of the containment. It appears to be a major pain to pull air hoses out of the containment only to have to re-install them every shift. Nonetheless, blast hoods should never be left inside of containment.

3. Using more air hose length than specified by the manufacturer

It may come as a surprise, but there are limitations on how much air hose you can use. Always read and comply with the manufacturer’s user manual.

4. No pressure gauge present, or if there is one, it does not work

The air line respirator is only effective if it is used in accordance with the manufacturer’s specified pressure ranges. If there is no way to measure the pressure, there is no way to ensure you are using the respirator properly.

5. Inner shield is not being used

Abrasive blasters are notorious for taking out the inner shield, claiming they cannot see very well with it in place. The shield is there for a reason. Not using the respirator as it was designed could result in serious injury.

6. Modifying the respirator

I have seen abrasive blasters on many occasions drill lights onto their hoods to help them blast—typically in reaction to inadequate general illumination in the containment. You should never modify a respirator from how it was designed and certified. This includes adding and omitting components from the approved system.

7. Not using the approved air hose from the respirator manufacturer

You would not believe how much I hear people complain about this finding. The respirator was approved as a complete system. Therefore, the user must use the system and all of its approved components, as it was certified.

Moving Forward

I do not want to appear as though I am picking on contractors: Many of them do an excellent job of protecting their workers and care genuinely about their welfare. The point of this article is to raise awareness that although we have come a long way as an industry in terms of protecting workers from health and safety hazards, we need to focus on issues like this so that we can control exposures to prevent the risk of occupational injury/illness.


Kevin Guth

Kevin serves as the Principal for KGC Environmental Services Inc. and is an Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida (College of Public Health- Center for Environmental and Occupational Risk Analysis and Management). For the past 26 years he has provided senior oversight and management of KGC’s most complex industrial hygiene and hazardous waste management projects. Kevin holds a Doctorate in Public Health (Specialty: Industrial Hygiene and Chemical Risk Assessment and Toxicology) from the University of South Florida. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and certified Project Management Professional (PMP).



Tagged categories: Containment; Environmental Protection; hazardous materials; Hazardous waste; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Industrial Hygienists; Abrasive blasting; Air quality; Blasting; Respirators; Safety equipment; Surface preparation; Ventilation

Comment from Lee Edelman, (12/12/2017, 3:17 PM)

As always I enjoy reading your articles they have great value and state facts. Thanks Kevin

Comment from Gavin Gooden, (12/14/2017, 2:32 PM)

This is very true, in Australia they had a law that a blast helmet was also a hard hat and had to be replaced every two years, but this law was not known by 95% of contractors. Using the right Blast helmet can make a big impact on the workers productivity, so choose wisely. :)

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (12/14/2017, 3:09 PM)

Excellent article with great info. Was not aware of many of these issues. Thank You.

Comment from David Zuskin, (8/30/2018, 10:04 AM)

"6. Modifying the respirator I have seen abrasive blasters on many occasions drill lights onto their hoods to help them blast" I do not understand what you are referring to here?

Comment from Robert Logan, (8/30/2018, 2:47 PM)

Good article but 100' is very little room to play with especially on big jobs. I believe most manufactures specify up to 300' depending on pressure and equipment.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (8/31/2018, 11:01 AM)

David Zuskin - Some blasters drill holes into the hoods shells of the blast helmet (or even into the helmet itself!) to be able to mount additional lights on them.

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (9/1/2018, 12:04 PM)

I can relate to these concerns having spent 40 years in heavy construction. Good info.

Comment from Kevin Guth, (9/3/2018, 8:49 AM)

Thank you , Michael. The sentence was poorly written and you explained it much better.

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