Protecting Workers from Abrasive Blasting Materials

blastingThe abrasive materials commonly used in construction to clean or prepare a surface for coating can cause serious health risks to construction workers. Exposure to materials such as silica sand, iron ore, nickel or copper slag, can cause lung damage and breathing problems over time. OSHA notes that while each abrasive blasting operation is unique–involving different surfaces, coatings, and blast materials—employers should treat these conditions with equal amounts of caution. Before beginning work, construction managers should identify the hazards and take corrective action to eliminate them.

The first step is to know the Manufacturers’ SDS (Safety Data Sheets) for health hazard information, which is included on the various abrasive blasting material for construction projects.

Abrasive blasting uses compressed air or water to direct a high velocity stream of an abrasive material. The resulting dust, during and after work, can be mitigated in several ways. For best practices, OSHA recommends the following path: “When engineering and administrative controls cannot keep exposures to hazardous materials below OSHA permissible exposure limits, respiratory protection must be used.”

Engineering controls include substitution (with a less toxic material) isolation, containment, (including barriers and curtain walls) and ventilation. It is also an option to use abrasives that can be delivered with water (slurry) to reduce dust.

Basic administrative safety controls for this type of work include:

  • Perform routine cleanup using wet methods or HEPA filtered vacuuming to minimize the accumulation of toxic dusts.
  • Do not use compressed air to clean; this will create dust in the air.
  • Clean and decontaminate tarps and other equipment on the worksite.
  • Schedule blasting when the least number of workers are at the site.
  • Avoid blasting in windy conditions to prevent the spread of any hazardous materials.
  • Keep contaminated clothing and equipment out of the clean change area.

Abrasive blasting also creates high levels of noise. OSHA has specific standards for noise protection and to avoid these hazards, personal protection equipment is paramount to avoid worker injury. OSHA states that an effective hearing conservation program must be implemented by employers in general industry whenever worker noise exposure is equal to or greater than 85 dBA, (decibels)  the relative loudness of sounds in air as perceived by the human ear, for an 8 hour exposure or in the construction industry when exposures exceed 90 dBA for an 8 hour exposure.

For this and more information on your construction safety needs, contact us at Diversified Safety Services.

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