Sand blasting is generally the act of thrusting very fine bits of sand or other materials at high-velocity to etch or clean a surface. The commonly used material in this procedure – sand – has silica, which is linked to the lung disease silicosis. Such a medical condition is caused by prolonged inhalation of sandy dust; thus, there are alternatives to sand like copper slag, steel grit, powdered abrasives, walnut shells, and coconut shell bits.
When not protecting oneself, sand blasting can be a potentially dangerous procedure, especially if one is not doing enough to protect himself. Sand blasting can be controlled through protective wear, proper ventilation, and an alternative air supply. Some of the most basic steps in ensuring safety during sand blasting activities are checking the filter, wearing a helmet, ensuring safe transportation, consulting one’s employer, and ensuring noise safety.
On wearing a helmet, sand blaster operators are mandated to wear helmets that are sealed air-supplied. Such helmets protect them from the minuscule hazardous dust from sand blasting. Sand blaster operators are also mandated to check the air supply’s filter to ensure that dust is not being vented into the helmet. Operators should check and make sure that the filter fits properly with no leakage. Such filter must also be cleaned from the previous use.
Operators are also required to wear a particulate filter respirator whenever sand blaster abrasives or silica are being transported. When in motion, such materials can create airborne dust that is harmful. An operator must also coordinate with his supervisor regarding sand blasting equipment as the supervisor is responsible to know about safety precaution as well as provide training. Operating a sand blaster without the right training can result to injuries to the operator or to others. On noise safety, sand blasters can emit high noise volumes when in operation. Such noise can damage an operator’s hearing; thus, wearing protective earphones are a must for blocking out excess noise.
Sand blasting operations are oftentimes overlooked when preparing safety plans as they are normally a small part of a bigger project like painting, refinishing, or cleaning. Because of this, many workers – especially those without adequate protection – are exposed to sand blasting’s hazards. Operators must be vigilant to the hazards of silica exposure and operators must take proper precautions against such exposures.
Some of these hazards include airborne dust, metal dust (cadmium, lead, and manganese), and silica sand, among other airborne hazards. Aside from the above safety precautions like wearing the right helmet or protective earphones, operators are also required to wear aprons, heavy leather or canvas gloves, safety shoes, or leggings (when appropriate).
Manual cabinet blast cleaners must never be exhausted in a location where workers could breathe hazardous dust. These enclosed cabinets are meant to reuse blasting medium and filter out dust. Dust is always created at a point where abrasives are mobilized, whether by shovel or by hand. Thus, all transfer points must be carefully exhausted and laborers who manually handle abrasives must wear particulate filter respirators.
Guidelines by the NIOSH (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) address the various aspects of sand blasting like the quality of breathing air provided to the abrasive blasting respirator and proper airline length. Sand blaster safety is a never ending process and there is a lot to know about sand blasting and the related hazards in order to properly and safely perform the task.