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Abrasive blowing: Manage the threats

Abrasive blasting is an important method in construction to handle a number of tasks: Preparing a surface for paint, applying a texture, or for cleaning surfaces.

While a time-efficient method it comes with serious risks to worker safety.

One problem with abrasive blasting is that it is loud. OSHA says it can lead to “significant” hearing loss for individuals working with or near equipment. As a result, it is critical that employees use hearing protection. In addition, employers are required to have a well-defined hearing-loss prevention program.

Another issue is that materials used in the blasting process can create dust that is toxic to workers. Abrasive materials often include steel grit, glass grains or smashed glass, coal slag, or silica. Breathing in these materials can cause damage to the lungs and even lung cancer. Some materials contain traces of other harmful materials like cadmium, arsenic, and beryllium!

It’s critical that companies strive to keep their employees safe from these threats. It all starts with an appropriate risk assessment. Your insurance professional can be a great resource to help you understand risks and the resources you can leverage to understand dangers and protect your employees. You need to have a solid training program and you need to be sure that there’s strict adherence to all safety protocols.

Other mitigation suggestions include using barriers to separate areas being blasted. Also it is recommended to leverage less toxic blasting products and mixing with water to minimize dirt and dust. Alternatives also include using air systems to remove dust.

From a site management perspective, keeping air clean via either wet techniques or HEPA-filtered methods is important. It’s also critical to keep equipment clean. Additionally, it’s best to work on calm days as wind can pose problems.

OSHA also notes that workers should not drink or eat near locations that are being treated with abrasive blowing. It’s also recommended that workers are given access to separate locations for showering and changing so they can clean up quickly and easily and avoid bringing toxic materials home with them.