Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Dry, Wet, and Vapor Abrasive Blasting
By Kurt Ivory, Chief Marketing Officer, RPB Safety LLC, and Wade Hannon, Account Manager, Graco
While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets personal protective equipment (PPE) standards for dry abrasive blasting, there is no broad industry standard covering wet or vapor abrasive blasting. Given this gap, many working on wet or vapor abrasive blasting sites don’t completely understand the proper PPE that should be used in these situations.
Less Dust Does Not Mean Less PPE
When dry blasting first became popular, many operators employed just a face shield to keep the dust out of their eyes. With the amount of dust in the air, however, it quickly became clear that respiratory issues could become a concern, and standards were set to require respirators when dry blasting.
Compared to dry blasting, wet and vapor abrasive blasting reduces dust significantly, causing people to question whether or not a respirator is required. However, any blasting operation will create some dust, whether from the substrate being blasted or the media used for the blasting. Even if a small amount of media is being used, there could be kickback from the surface.
Less dust still requires protective gear, particularly if the dust might contain hazardous materials like asbestos or lead.
Wet and Vapor Blasting PPE Checklist
There are no dedicated products specifically designed for wet or abrasive blasting jobs. However, many distributors and manufacturers recommend respiratory protection, and typically use similar PPE as would be found on dry blasting jobs.
Respirators are an important piece of equipment for any blaster, as they help keep dust in the air from entering the lungs, which could lead to breathing problems. Tight-fitting respirators can be used and work well to prevent intake of dust if they are sealed properly. However, they frequently do not provide the same protection as loose-fitting respirators, as any facial hair – even stubble – can break the seal on the respirator and allow dust in. Beyond the need to be completely clean-shaven, tight-fitting respirators can be hot and uncomfortable, reducing the efficiency and effectiveness of the operator.
Loose-fitting respirators, which rest on the operator’s shoulders, are more comfortable to wear and provide air circulation around the head and neck to help keep the operator cool. New products on the market cool the incoming compressed air before it circulates through the respirator, providing advanced cooling of the head and upper body. See a tight-fitting vs. loose-fitting respirator.
It is important to note that using just any respirator may not work for blasting. For example, paint respirators are commonly marked “not to be used in abrasive blasting.” According to rules set out by OSHA in standard 1910.134, abrasive blasting respirators must cover the head, neck and shoulders, and be approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to protect from dust generated during blasting.
If there are potentially hazardous materials being blasted, such as lead, the respirator must have an appropriate assigned protection factor (APF). In the example of lead, the respirator must have an APF of greater than 1,000 particles.
Hearing protection, which can be included in a loose-fitting respirator or as an addition to a tight-fitting respirator, is necessary when working around blasting equipment, which runs at a high frequency with high decibels, and compressors, which can be very loud as well.
Depending on the respirator in use, it may come equipped with a communication system in the helmet, making it easy for operators to communicate without removing the respirator and hearing protection. It’s important that everyone working nearby on the job site use ear plugs or other hearing protection.
Blast Suits, Gloves and Boots
Clothing, gloves and boots help further ensure the safety and comfort of the operator.
Nylon blast suits, such as the RPB® Blast Suit, are lightweight, durable and breathable, and designed to protect from any abrasive material kickback while helping keep the operator cool.
The suit can also get wet – an important consideration when wet or vapor abrasive blasting – and can be machine washed for easy re-use.
Face Shields and Eye Protection
Face shields are generally integrated into loose-fitting respirators, and thus operators using those respirators do not need a secondary face shield.
However, other individuals on the site should use alternative eye protection such as safety glasses or a face shield.
The Changing Safety Market
The blasting market is becoming much more conscious of operator safety and ensuring each operator has the appropriate equipment. PPE helps protect workers on the job so they can get home to enjoy a healthy life. By keeping operators safe and healthy on the job, they can be free to live without concerns of hearing loss, respiratory attacks or other health issues.
Safety also has an impact on the company – not only through insurance or medical coverage costs, but through the general comfort of the operator. If an operator is safe, comfortable and cool, that person is likely to be a more productive employee. In the long run, safe, comfortable and productive operators are key to successful blasting businesses.
More Information About Dust and Safe Blasting
The construction industry must comply with OSHA’s new silica rule on respirable crystalline silica by June 23, 2017, one year after the effective date. For general industry and maritime, compliance must begin June 23, 2018, two years after the effective date.
There is a lot of information out there – both good and bad – around dust and blasting safety. Make sure you know the facts. If reducing dust is important to you, check out our article, "Dustless Blasting is a Myth".