Most bridge and highway steel structure paint coatings applied before 1980 contained toxic metals such as lead, cadmium and chromium. These additives were used to protect the steel from harsh road conditions and to provide a long-lasting protective coating.
Painters, helpers and other workers at these sites are exposed to these toxic metals while removing existing paint and primers in preparing for repainting or during maintenance work. Paint removal prior to repainting is typically done inside temporary enclosures made with canvas tarps or other materials to protect the environment. This enclosed workspace results in high levels of toxic dust from the old paint and the abrasive material used. Abrasive blasting using recycled steel shot or slag abrasives are common methods for removing old paint from steel structures. Slag abrasives can cause exposure to toxic metals and crystalline silica. Always check the safety data sheet for hazard information. Paint removal using needle guns or grinding is the usual method for spot removal in preparation for hot work and other maintenance tasks.
Small business owners should read OSHA's Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Hexavalent Chromium Standards.*
Photo courtesy: 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.
As the paint is removed, large quantities of tiny particles of paint become airborne and workers can inhale Cr(VI) dust if the paint or primer contains chromium. Current paint formulations of epoxy and urethane paints with zinc primers have mostly replaced the toxic lead and chromium-based coatings previously used on bridge and highway steel structures.
For more information on adverse health effects and preventive measures see OSHA's Health Effects of Hexavalent Chromium Fact Sheet.*
Employers providing respirators to their workers must comply with OSHA's Respiratory Protection standard, 29 CFR 1910.134. For more information, see OSHA's Safety and Health Topics page on respiratory protection.
For more information on hexavalent chromium exposure, visit OSHA's website at www.osha.gov.
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.
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U.S. Department of Labor
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DSG FS-3649 05R 2013
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