Micro abrasive blasting brings unparalleled benefits to jobs of all sizes, from preparing the components of a space shuttle to etching a delicate piece of jewelry. The use of a high velocity stream of abrasive media results in exceptional precision, flexibility and control. However, workers and employers must keep in mind critical safety considerations when blasting.
Minimizing Safety Hazards
Blasting causes a release of dust into the air, both from the abrasive media itself, as well as kickback from the surface being blasted. Abrasive powders such as silica and metals like lead and manganese can prove toxic when inhaled. In addition to respiratory concerns, exposure to the noise of the blast equipment and air compressors can result in hearing loss over time.
While the hazards are real, a few basic precautions can minimize risk and promote worker health. Take a multi-faceted approach to worker safety by using personal protective equipment (PPE), properly preparing the work environment and choosing the right abrasive media.
Protective Equipment is Essential
No blasting process is completely dustless. While dry blasting creates the most visible dust, even wet blasting results in contaminants being released into the air. To combat both the dust and the noise, a few basic items of personal protective equipment should be part of the standard operating procedure. These include:
- Respirators – If the operator is not using a blast cabinet, a respirator is critical. For best results, use a loose-fitting respirator that sits on the shoulders. Most paint respirators are not sufficient, and an additional level of protection is required when lead is present.
- Hearing protection
- Blast suit, gloves and boots – This protects the skin and ensures that contaminants do not travel with the worker to other areas of the workplace or home.
Healthy Workplace Design
One of the best ways to address safety considerations with micro abrasive blasting is to look at the work environment itself. For smaller jobs, always use a blast cabinet with a dust collector. For bigger jobs, specially-designed blast rooms or physical barriers keep contaminated air and blasting noise contained and isolated from other workers.
Ventilation and dust containment are also essential for blast rooms. Any blast enclosure should include an exhaust ventilation system to extract dust from the air, both reducing contamination and increasing visibility.
Proper cleanup and hygiene policies round out the healthy workplace. Avoid using compressed air to clean up the blast area. Instead, use wet cleaning methods in addition to filtered dust containment. Provide wash stations for workers and prohibit eating, drinking or tobacco use in the blast room.
Choose Abrasive Media with Safety in Mind
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right abrasive media for your micro abrasive blasting job. In addition to looking at factors such as size and shape, keep in mind that some abrasive media are more toxic than others.
The most striking example is silica sand (crystalline silica). Although cheap and effective, silica dust can cause potentially deadly silicosis and other respiratory problems. Abrasives such as nickel slag, garnet sand and glass can also cause lung damage. These abrasives may still prove the best choice for the operation, but workers will need to take appropriate precautions.
Less toxic alternatives include sodium bicarbonate, plastic bead media and ice. Sodium bicarbonate, for instance, is both eco-friendly and non-hazardous.
Invest in Abrasive Blasting Safety Considerations
Whether you are running a business or using micro abrasive blasting in your home shop, it pays to focus on safety. Workers who use personal protective equipment in a well-designed work environment with the right abrasives are much less likely to suffer from respiratory issues and hearing loss.
Airbrasive offers a selection of eco-friendly abrasive powders, as well as state-of-the-art blast cabinets and dust collectors, filters and a variety of blasting units. For nearly 70 years, we have set the standard for micro abrasive blasting. Our experts can design a solution to meet your blasting needs and keep your operators safe and healthy.