Although spraying and sandblasting are two very different operations, they create similar hazards and thus, you can take similar steps to stay safe. This article will explain the risks and the best practices to help you manage them safely.
Background on sandblasting & spraying
Sandblasting and spray painting use compressed air to perform surface preparation and coating application at industrial quality standards.
Sandblasting involves the spraying of abrasive particles to strip coatings from a surface or prepare it for other processes. Although the process is referred to as “sand” blasting, there are actually different materials that can be used including glass and plastic. For more information on choosing the best media for your application read our guide on Choosing the right media.
Depending on the application, spraying may be used to apply protective and/or aesthetic coatings including paints, resins, lacquers, varnishes. Spraying has the advantage of providing a more even, consistent & controllable finish than manual techniques.
Hazards with sandblasting and spraying
The primary risks to consider include:
- Inhalation of particulates
- Chemical reactions
The small particles involved in spraying and sandblasting present the primary risks – in addition to inhalation, the small particles can also be hazardous if they come into contact with exposed body parts or if they are ingested. There are a variety of health problems that these risks can result in including impairment of lungs, liver, kidneys, or even the brain.
It is important to consider the materials that are being used in spraying/blasting in combination with the surface material. Some paints and coatings can contain volatile or flammable components. Similarly, some surfaces may contain elements like lead which become dangerous when airborne.
One hazard that is sometimes overlooked is hearing damage as a result of overexposure to loud blasting/spraying processes without protection. Blasting, in particular, is a loud process and prolonged exposure can result in longer term aural problems including hearing loss.
How to sandblast and spray safely
The standard framework for creating a safe work environment is the Hierarchy of Controls. In descending order of effectiveness are:
- Engineering Controls
- Administrative Controls
In this context, elimination is not applicable so we will focus on the remaining controls.
It is important to consider the chemical interactions between the pressurised particles and the surface material (both the coating and the underlying surface). For blasting specifically, consider using a safer blasting method such as wet blasting or a non-toxic abrasive as appropriate.
For portable work a blasting or spraying booth is a great way to isolate the operator from the hazards of their work as well as containing the material and mitigating detrimental effects to the surrounding environment. Blasting booths with correct ventilation can also mitigate the chemical hazards by extracting fumes and vapors from the work area and limiting potential for fires or explosions.
A spray or blast booth is not always practical for some work. In these cases, an exhaust ventilation system can still provide some hazard control by mitigating the potential for fires or explosions from fumes.
Administrative controls are also effective ways to reduce hazards involved in spray painting or sandblasting. Good process around maintaining a clean and safe environment is a simple and cheap way to maintain safety. Using wet cleaning or filtered vacuuming helps prevent the build-up of toxic material. Furthermore, separating spraying/blasting from other activities can isolate the spread of contaminants. For example, keeping food and drink areas well away from spraying/blasting and ensuring showers or wash stations are used can minimise the risk.
Finally, PPE is the simplest barrier against some of the physical dangers of spraying or blasting. Good examples of PPE include:
- Hearing protection e.g. ear muffs, ear plugs
- Eye protection e.g. blast helmets, safety goggles
- Breathing protection e.g. respirators
Skin protection e.g. blast suit, overalls, protective footwear