Abrasive Blasting Safety 101
Abrasive blasting, or what is more commonly known as sandblasting, is a common process in many industries. It is typically used to strip paint or other items off of metal or even wood in order to get it down to just the raw materials.
It works by using pressurized air to propel tiny particles of an abrasive material, which will quickly remove almost anything that is stuck to the base material. There are many different types of abrasive blasting, depending on the material being used as the abrasive. Most commonly it is silica, but it can also be actual sand or even ground up walnut shells.
While this is a very effective way to remove paint and other things, it can also be quite hazardous, which is why any company that uses this process must take abrasive blasting safety very seriously. Read through the following hazards associated with this process, and how to prevent injury or other dangers.
Clouds of Dust
If you are abrasive blasting out in the open it will almost always cause a significant cloud of dust from the material being blasted as well as whatever is being removed. This dust can build up very quickly, and become a significant danger. For example, the dust can:
- Make it difficult to see, which puts the operator and others in the area at risk.
- Be inhaled if the people in the area are not wearing proper respiratory equipment.
- It can be flammable if you are blasting off a flammable material or using a flammable abrasive.
- It can also get into other machines or vents that are nearby, causing a variety of problems.
To help reduce the amount of dust, or minimize the risks that it causes, you can do several things. Ideally, you can place a large exhaust system that will filter out the dust from the air. If that is not an option, you can take precautions to ensure nobody else is in the area when blasting, and always wear the proper personal protection equipment.
In order to make sure nobody comes close while you are blasting, you can use safety tape, safety signs or even simple labels (similar to this) in the surrounding area to let people know that they need to keep their distance.
Contaminants in the Air
Even if you can minimize the actual dust in the air to a safe level, you also have to be aware of what it is you’re blasting off. If you are removing lead based paint, for example, everyone in the area should always use a breathing mask.
This is because small amounts of the lead paint could remain in the air and get inhaled. This can cause lung problems as well as nervous system issues. Since these problems can take years to develop, many people don’t realize just how hazardous they really are until it is too late.
Injury to Operator and Others in the Area
When abrasive blasting the air and blasting material come out at extremely high speeds. If the operator accidently aims it at a person in the area, they can experience severe injuries. Even if they are wearing breathing protection, the velocity of the blasting material itself can cause severe skin and eye injuries.
It is also possible for the operator to hurt him or herself. If they put the blasting wand down, for example, and then turn it back on accidently, it could blast their leg or foot, which can cause a significant injury.
To avoid this type of problem, the best thing you can do is instruct all abrasive blasting operators to treat the machine as if it were a firearm. It should never be pointed in the direction of anyone or anything that you do not want it to fire at. This will help ensure better abrasive blasting safety for everyone.
Weakening a Structure
It is sometimes necessary to use the abrasive blasting techniques on old structures to remove rust, paint or other items. This is especially popular when restoring or renovating an older building. When blasting away the excess materials, it could weaken the metal or wood that you are working with, causing it to fall.
While it is very unlikely that this would happen on a support beam of any type, it could easily occur for things like railings on stairways, chains on light fixtures or other items. When these things break, it could cause a significant falling hazard for the person doing the blasting.
In order to minimize this risk, make sure you have a good idea of just how strong the item you are working with still is. Rust, for example, can sometimes severely weaken metal, so feel it from top to bottom so you can be confident that it will hold up to the blasting.
Dangers when Working with Enclosed Abrasive Blasting
The above dangers are related to blasting in an open area, which is just one way that this is done. In other cases, when you’re working on removing paint or other things from smaller items, it is possible to do the blasting within an enclosed area.
These blasting areas allow you to place the item within a case, and then reach through with protective gloves to operate the blasting. While this is clearly a safer option, you still need to think every step through to maximize abrasive blasting safety. The following are some potential risks that are still present even in these enclosed areas:
- Not Securing the Door – When placing an item to be blasted in this type of machine, you need to make sure the opening to the container is completely secure. If it isn’t, it could pop open while blasting, creating a massive cloud of dust in the area extremely quickly.
- Damaged Safety Gloves – Over time the gloves that are used to protect your hands while operating the machine can become ripped or otherwise damaged. If you don’t notice this before you start, you could injure your hands from the blasting material.
- Opening the Door too quickly – Even if you had secured the door closed, some people make the mistake of opening it too quickly after the job is done. If the dust has not been properly settled or vented out of the machine, the operator will be exposed to it. This is especially dangerous if there is lead or other toxic materials in the air.
There are, of course, other dangers associated with abrasive blasting. This is why it is so important that all facilities take abrasive blasting safety seriously and do all they can to keep everyone safe.