Utilizing Safety Practices in Abrasive Blasting
Safety guidelines are crucial to a worker’s health when abrasive blasting to prevent injury and long-term illness.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, abrasive blasting, also known as sandblasting, utilizes compressed air or water and abrasive materials to clean a surface prior to coating. While smoothing the surface, abrasive blasting can provide potential injuries and long-term health effects to workers and it is important to follow safe procedures.
Health and Safety Concerns
Abrasive blasting surfaces can cause high levels of dust, with material potentially containing other toxic materials like lead paint or arsenic. Commonly used abrasive materials, like silica sand, coal slag, glass and steel grit, can cause lung damage or cancer.
“That would be the first point: to control particulate matter and gases because the risk of overexposure could lead to lead poisoning and occupational-induced lung diseases, such as silicosis and carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Kevin Guth, Principal for KGC Environmental, in an interview with PaintSquare Daily News.
Abrasive blasting also creates high levels of noise, with a risk of hearing lost if overexposed.
“The third point, which is probably not discussed very often in our industry, is vibration,” said Guth. “For example, the force of the abrasive moving through the abrasive blaster’s hose will transfer that vibration to the blaster’s hands and arms. Then there’s a risk of developing a disease called Raynaud’s disease; it’s caused by damage to the nerves and capillaries.”
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, on top of health hazards, abrasive blasting can pose a fall risk from working from scaffolding. The abrasive stream and materials themselves can also cause physical harm if caught in the blaster.
Protective Measures and Guidelines
Each blasting job has unique specifications, costs and environments. If possible, OSHA recommends substituting a less toxic blasting material in environments when possible, such as:
When an alternative can’t be used, utilizing an abrasive that can be mixed with water to create a slurry reduces dust for the blaster. Containment, such as barriers and curtain walls, help isolate the area. Smaller operations can use blast rooms or blast cabinets.
Ventilation systems are critical to capture dust and keep air flowing. Abrasive blasters should also wear a respirator.
“[Another concern] is making sure that the air filter has been installed or changed out according to manufacturer specifications,” said Guth. “If you’re going to be breathing this air, it’s really important that you’re achieving great deep breathing for your health.”
According to OSHA, the respirator must cover the wearer’s head, neck and shoulders, to protect from rebounding abrasives, and only use NIOSH approved respirators to provide protection from dust. Abrasive blaster and personnel involved in cleanup should wear respiratory protection.
In addition to using a respirator, other personal protective equipment is crucial to safety when abrasive blasting, including:
Generally, it’s best to avoid blasting in windy conditions to prevent the spread of materials. OSHA also recommends scheduling blasting when the least number of workers are onsite.
Wash stations should be readily available at the worksite so workers can wash their hands and face routinely and before eating, drinking or smoking. An food, beverage or tobacco products should also be kept out of the blasting area.
Following abrasive blasting, cleanup should be performed using wet methods or HEPA filtered vacuuming. Any tarps or equipment used in the process should be cleaned and decontaminated, and workers should vacuum or remove any clothing and shower prior to leaving the area.
Employers should also provide training to their abrasive blasters, reviewing protection guidelines and providing safety data sheets on hazards. Employers are required by OSHA to establish a respiratory protection program.
“To me, the most important thing is to ensure that the workplace fosters a safety culture. If the safety isn’t approved top-down, then these measures just don’t get put into place,” Guth said.
“Knowledge is power. Take advantage of these booklets that are available on-site. Be proactive in your safety. Don’t just rely on your employer.”