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Protecting Workers from the Hazards of Abrasive Blasting Materials

Abrasive blasting uses compressed air or water to direct a high velocity stream of an abrasive material to clean an object or surface, remove burrs, apply a texture, or prepare a surface for the application of paint or other type of coating. Employers must protect workers from hazardous dust levels and toxic metals that may be generated from both the blasting material and the underlying substrate and coatings being blasted. This fact sheet provides information on abrasive blasting material, health hazards, and methods to protect workers.

Abrasive Blasting Materials

The decision to use a certain type of abrasive material can depend on factors such as cost, job specifications, environment, and worker health.

Commonly used abrasive materials:

  • Silica sand (crystalline)
  • Coal slag
  • Garnet sand
  • Nickel slag
  • Copper slag
  • Glass (beads or crushed)
  • Steel shot
  • Steel grit
  • Specular hematite (iron ore)

Alternative, less toxic blasting materials include:

  • Dry ice
  • Plastic bead media
  • Sponge
  • Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
  • Ground walnut shells, ground corn cob and other biodegradable materials
  • High pressure water

Abrasive blasting creates dust

Abrasive blasting creates high levels of dust. Photo courtesy of NIOSH.

**** CAUTION ****

Abrasive blasting creates high levels of noise that can cause substantial hearing loss. Always wear hearing protection. Employers must administer a hearing conservation program as required by the OSHA Occupational Noise standard.

Health Hazards

Abrasive blasting operations can create high levels of dust and noise. Abrasive material and the surface being blasted may contain toxic materials (e.g., lead paint, silica) that are hazardous to workers.

  • Silica sand (crystalline) can cause silicosis, lung cancer, and breathing problems in exposed workers.
  • Coal slag and garnet sand may cause lung damage similar to silica sand (based on preliminary animal testing).
  • Copper slag, nickel slag, and glass (crushedorbeads) also have the potential to cause lung damage.
  • Steel grit and shot have less potential to cause lung damage.
  • Slags can contain trace amounts of toxic metals such as arsenic, beryllium, and cadmium.

How to Protect Workers from Exposure to Abrasive Blasting Materials

Each abrasive blasting operation is unique, involving different surfaces, coatings, blast material, and working conditions. Before beginning work, employers should identify the hazards and assign a knowledgeable person trained to recognize hazards and with the authority to quickly take corrective action to eliminate them. Use engineering and administrative controls, personal protective equipment (PPE), including respiratory protection, and training to protect workers involved in abrasive blasting activities. Engineering controls, such as substitution, isolation, containment, and ventilation are the primary means of preventing or reducing exposures to airborne hazards during abrasive blasting operations. Administrative controls, including the use of good work and personal hygiene practices, can also reduce exposure. When engineering and administrative controls cannot keep exposures to hazardous materials below OSHA permissible exposure limits, respiratory protection must be used.

Engineering Controls

1. Substitition

  • Use a less toxic abrasive blasting material.
  • Use abrasives that can be delivered with water (slurry) to reduce dust.

2. Isolation and Containment

  • Use barriers and curtain walls to isolate the blasting operation from other workers
  • Use blast rooms or blast cabinets for smaller operations.
  • Use restricted areas for non-enclosed blasting operations.
  • Keep coworkers away from the blaster

3. Ventilation

  • Use exhaust ventilation systems in containment structures to capture dust.

Employers can use OSHA's free On-Site Consultation Program for advice on safety and health issues.

Administrative Controls

Perform routine cleanup using wet methods or HEPA filtered vacuuming to minimize the accumulation of toxic dusts.

Abrasive blasting using a dust collection system

Abrasive blasting using a dust collection system withmultiple exhaust ducts. (Photo courtesy of Flexaust, Inc. This equipment is shown for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as an endorsement by OSHA of this company, its products or services.)

  • Do not use compressed air to clean as this will create dust in the air.
  • Clean and decontaminate tarps and other equipment on the worksite.
  • Schedule blasting when the least number of workers are at the site.
  • Avoid blasting in windy conditions to prevent the spread of any hazardous materials

Personal Hygiene Practices

  • Prohibit eating, drinking, or using tobacco products in blasting areas.
  • Provide wash stations so workers can wash their hands and face routinely and before eating, drinking, or smoking
  • Vacuum or remove contaminated work clothes before eating, drinking or smoking
  • Provide accommodations for end-of-shift showers and change areas with separate storage facilities for street clothes, protective clothing and equipment
  • Keep contaminated clothing and equipment out of the clean change area.

Respiratory Protection

An abrasive-blasting respirator must cover the wearer's head, neck, and shoulders to protect the wearer from rebounding abrasive. Workers must use only respirators approved by NIOSH to provide protection from dusts produced during abrasive-blasting operations.

  • Type CE NIOSH-certified blasting airline respirator with positive pressure blasting helmet.

Support personnel involved in cleanup and other related activities may also need respiratory protection.

When respirators are used,employers must establish a comprehensive respiratory protection program as required by the OSHA Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134)

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Hearing protection
  • Eye and face protection
  • Helmet
  • Leather gloves that protect to full forearm and aprons (or coveralls)
  • Safety shoes or boots

Worker Training and Hazard Communication

  • Provide training to abrasive blasters and support personnel on blasting health and safety hazards, how to use controls, personal hygiene practices, safe work practices and the use of PPE and respirators.
  • Manufacturers are required to include appropriate health hazard information on the blasting materials on safety data sheets (SDS) as required under OSHA's Hazard Communication standard (29 CFR 1910.1200).
  • Obtain and read the manufacturer's SDS for health hazard information on the abrasive blasting material you are using

For more information on abrasive blasting and control measures see: OSHA's guidance document: "Abrasive Blasting Hazards in Shipyard Employment" (2006); and eTool:Mechanical Removers (Ship Repair).

Disclaimer: This OSHA Fact Sheet provides a general overview of the requirements in OSHA standards related to abrasive blasting.It does not alter or determine compliance responsibilities in these standards or the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Since interpretations and enforcement policy may change over time, the reader should consult current OSHA interpretations and decisions by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and the courts for additional guidance on OSHA compliance requirements.

This is one in a series of informational fact sheets highlighting OSHA programs, policies or standards. It does not impose any new compliance requirements. For a comprehensive list of compliance requirements of OSHA standards or regulations, refer to Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This information will be made available to sensory-impaired individuals upon request. The voice phone is (202) 693-1999; teletypewriter (TTY) number: (877) 889-5627.

For assistance, contact us. We can help. It's confidential:

Occupational Safety and Health Adminstration

U.S. Department of Labor
www.osha.gov (800) 321-OSHA (6742)

DSG FS-3697 11/2013

Applicable OSHA Standards and Safety and Health Topic Pages

The following table provides links to several OSHA standards (not all-inclusive) that may contain requirements that apply to abrasive blasting operations. For example, the removal of lead paint by abrasive blasting will likely require employers to follow provisions of the OSHA Lead standard. Safety and health topic pages listed here provide employers and workers with information that may be useful for safely conducting abrasive blasting.

General Industry Shipyard Industry Construction Industry OSHA Topics Pages(s)
1910.94, Ventilation 1915.33 & 1915.34, Chemical & Mechanical paint removers 1926.57, Ventilation Ventilation
1910.1000, Air Contaminants
Table Z-1, Limits for Air Contaminants
Table Z-2, Toxic and Hazardous Substances
Table Z-3, Mineral Dusts
1915.1000, Air Contaminants
Table Z Shipyards
1926.55, Gases, Vapors, Fumes, Dusts, and Mists
Appendix A, ThresholdLimit Values of Airborne Contaminants for Construction
Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs)
Hazardous and Toxic Substances
1910.1025 Lead 1915.1025 Lead 1926.62 Lead Lead (General Industry)
Lead (Construction)
1910.1018 Inorganic Arsenic 1915.1018 Inorganic Arsenic 1926.1118 Inorganic Arsenic Arsenic
1910.1027 Cadmium 1915.1027 Cadmium 1926.1127 Cadmium Cadmium
1910.1026 Chromium (VI) 1915.1026 Chromium (VI) 1926.1126 Chromium (VI) Hexavalent Chromium
Respiratory Protection (1910.134). 1915.154 Respiratory Protection (refers to 1910.134) 1926.103 Respiratory Protection (refers to 1910.134) Respiratory Protection
1910.95 Occupational Noise Exposure Occupational Noise Exposure 1910.95 Occupational Noise Exposure (per Shipyard “Tool Bag” Directive, CPL 02-00-182) 1926.52 Occupational Noise Exposure Occupational Noise Exposure
1926.101 Hearing Protection
See 1910.1000 Table Z-1
See 1915.1000 Table Z
See 1926.55 Appendix A
See 1910.1000 Table Z-3
See 1915.1000 Table Z
See 1926.55 Appendix A
1910.1200 Hazard Communication 1915.1200 Hazard Communication (refers to 1910.1200) 1926.59 Hazard Communication (refers to 1910.1200) Hazard Communication
1910.132 Personal Protective Equipment 1915 Subpart I Personal Protective Equipment 1926 Subpart E Personal Protective Equipmen Personal Protective Equipment
1910.141 Sanitation 1915.88 Sanitation 1926.51 Sanitation

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