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Protecting Employees While Conducting Abrasive Blasting Ops

Abrasive blasting is an activity that utilizes compressed air or water to produce a high-velocity stream of abrasive material that is pointed at objects or surfaces in need of cleaning, burr removal, texture application, or to prepare that surface for an application of paint or other coatings. This activity generates extremely hazardous dust levels. Additionally, toxic metals can result from the blasting material itself.

Fortunately, various protective methods can be put into place to reduce the risk of exposure and strive to reduce hazardous outcomes. This includes instituting a series of administrative and engineering controls and practicing good personal hygiene.

Engineering Controls

One of the most successful engineering controls is the use of substitution. When possible, companies should use a less toxic abrasive material. Using abrasives that can be paired with water can offer great assistance in reducing high levels of dust. 

When substitution cannot be utilized as a practical solution, blasting operations can be confined through barriers and curtain walls. Smaller or more refined operations can be conducted in blast rooms or cabinets. Where blasting operations occur in areas that cannot be enclosed, access should be restricted. All coworkers should maintain a safe distance from the blasting unit at all times.

With all blasting operations, the dust generated reigns as an extreme concern. The engineering control of ventilation can be put into place to combat the negative effects associated with the dust. Dust can be captured through the use of exhaust ventilation systems.

Administrative Controls

Companies can create a safe work experience with abrasive blasting by instituting policies and programs that guide completion of the work in a safe and effective manner. Accumulating toxic dust can be minimized through a proactive cleanup practice. Additionally, HEPA filtered vacuums can be used to collect contaminated dust before it poses a problem with accumulation.

A surplus of additional administrative controls can yield positive results. Employees should refrain from using compressed air to clean. It only serves as a dust generator. All equipment used in conjunction with abrasive blasting should be thoroughly cleaned before being stored. 

Lastly, blasting operations should avoid windy conditions. Another proactive measure is to also coordinate and schedule these operations at an ideal time when limited personnel are in the area. Decreasing the potential exposure decreases the potential negative outcome.

Personal Protective Equipment

In the typical workplace scenario, if the engineering and administrative controls cannot effectively remove the hazard, then personal protective equipment (PPE) must be donned to protect employees from those remaining hazards. When it comes to abrasive blasting, some hazards remain even after the strategic use of controls. These personal protective equipment components can assist in succumbing to a hazardous outcome:

  • Eye and face protection
  • Hearing protection
  • Helmet
  • Leather gloves that travel up the forearm
  • Aprons or coveralls
  • Steel-toed boots

An important factor to remember when conducting abrasive blasting is the use of disposable protective suits. Employees should change into clean clothes after completing the blasting and dispose of the protective covering.

Personal Hygiene

It is imperative that employees do not fall into complacency just because they don the correct personal protective equipment. The workforce should consider their hands contaminated after removing protective gear. Fortunately, soap and water are an effective concoction in removing harmful residue.

Other methods of focus can yield additional positive results. Employees should refrain from smoking, eating, and drinking in blast areas. Whatever makes its way into the body through the mouth can become contaminated.

Care and concern should also be directed at removing protective gear before the end of the job. Those taking a break to eat lunch should remove the protective clothing and thoroughly wash before potentially ingesting harmful matter.

Prevention Through Education

The harmful outcomes associated with abrasive blasting can be minimized through a methodical approach in ensuring safety. Control practices and adequate protective gear are essential to laying the groundwork for a safe outcome, but they serve no purpose if the workforce does not understand or comprehend them. Failing to follow the established guidelines further derails the best-laid plan.

Education should be a paramount component of any abrasive blasting procedure and policy. The workforce must be educated to respect the ill effects associated with the work, and they must be trained to recognize the potential hazards.

Robust training programs should contain significant detail for the programs to be effective, but they must also be engraved in the company’s safety culture. They should be of focus during initial training, but also through refresher courses, pre-job planning, safety meetings, safety moments, and even breakout sessions.

Learning to embrace discussion and training only strengthens the men and women who will be conducting abrasive blasting operations. Arming them with the knowledge and tools to safely initiate the work will lead to a safe and profitable outcome. At the end of the day, companies wish to earn a profit but never at the expense of the workforce that completes the work.

Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with nine years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and Masonry Magazine. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188 Nick@shalemag.com