Abrasive Blasting ChecklistUpdated: March 20, 2023
Abrasive blasting is used in a variety of industries, from shipbuilding to the automotive industry. Thanks to abrasive blasting, businesses can efficiently prepare and clean various surfaces for paint or sealant applications.
Abrasive blasting uses a lot of force to complete a job well and therefore requires safety precautions. Employers need to make sure workers wear the proper gear while working with abrasive blasting equipment. Safety gear should be comfortable and protect workers from certain hazards. With the right safety equipment, employees can focus on using their skills and increasing productivity with peace of mind.
Employers also need to ensure abrasive blasting equipment is safe for trained workers to use. This requires regularly inspecting blasting equipment and using appropriate materials.
We’ll show you some of the top hazards associated with abrasive blasting and provide safety equipment checklists to help you and your employees avoid serious injuries.
What Is Abrasive Blasting?
Abrasive blasting, sometimes called sandblasting, is a technique that uses compressed air or water to launch a high-pressure stream of abrasive materials at an object. The goal of abrasive blasting may be to clean the surface of an object quickly, remove rust, prepare an object for painting or apply texture.
What Materials Are Used for Abrasive Blasting?
Workers can choose from various materials for abrasive blasting. The type of material they choose largely depends on the coating requirements and the type of application. The following materials are commonly used for abrasive blasting:
- Glass beads: Glass bead abrasives are made from recycled glass and contain no free silica. This eco-friendly blasting material quickly cleans surfaces without removing too much metal from the substrate.
- Crushed glass: Crushed glass is made from 100% recycled glass bottles. This abrasive features sharp, rough edges, providing aggressive cutting action ideal for removing heavy coatings.
- Aluminum oxide: Aluminum oxide is a versatile, medium-density abrasive produced from bauxite. As a blasting material, aluminum oxide can be used in many applications, from rust removal to glass etching.
- Plastic: Plastic abrasives are a lightweight, silica-free option. Plastic abrasives are less aggressive than other blasting materials and may be the right choice for cleaning softer substrates.
- Silicon carbide: Silicon carbide is one of the hardest materials available. Silicon carbide enables rapid cutting speeds and short blasting times to prepare surfaces for coatings efficiently. Silicon carbide is also reusable, which can help you cut down on material costs.
- Steel shot: Steel shot is made to handle challenging, heavy-duty applications. Offering extra strength and durability, steel shot works well for removing rough edges or corrosion.
- Steel grit: Steel grit features an angular shape and is ideal for forming deep anchor patterns to support coating adhesion. You might apply steel grit in bridge blasting, pipe coating or structural steel applications.
- Starblast™: Starblast is a general-purpose abrasive material containing a blend of staurolite sands and an extremely low silica level. Its highly uniform blasting patterns distinguish this material, and it also offers reusability and fast cleaning.
- Black Beauty®: Black Beauty is a popular coal slag product containing less than 0.1% free silica. Available in medium, fine and extra-fine, Black Beauty is a high-quality, chemically inert abrasive that can effectively remove surface coatings from various substrates.
- Ground walnut shells: Ground walnut shells are an excellent option for applications that require less abrasive materials. This lightweight, biodegradable material effectively and gently removes an object’s topcoat while leaving the substrate unscathed.
- Ground corn cobs: Like walnut shells, ground corn cobs provide softer, less aggressive blasting. You can use corn cob blasting media to clean and polish everything from jewelry to boat hulls. This material is available in fine, medium and coarse grains.
What Are Some Hazards of Abrasive Blasting?
Abrasive blasting works much faster and is less labor-intensive than sanding an object by hand or cleaning a surface with a wire brush. It’s a critical step in preparing an item for paint or protective coatings. To produce the desired effects, abrasive blasting requires materials that usually create a large amount of dust. Depending on the type of blasting medium used, the dust may be toxic if inhaled. Workers need to protect themselves from air contaminants and various other hazards when using abrasive blasting equipment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lists the following potential hazards associated with air blasting:
- Air contaminants: Exposure to toxic particles in the air is the main health hazard associated with abrasive blasting. Examples of contaminants that may be used as an air blasting material include silica sand, which can cause breathing problems and increase the risk of lung cancer, and toxic metals such as arsenic, lead and nickel.
- Loud noise: Abrasive blasting exposes operators to noise levels that may lead to hearing loss if they do not wear hearing protection. OSHA’s permissible exposure limit for noise is 90 A-weighted decibels (dBA). Abrasive blasting procedures typically produce 112 to 119 dBA when air is discharged from the nozzle.
- Powerful particle streams: Operators using abrasive blasting equipment risk being struck by high-speed blasting materials. The abrasive particles may become embedded in the skin or eyes or lead to burns or cuts.
- High-pressure water or air streams: Operators or others standing nearby could come into contact with high-pressure air or water streams if they are not aware of their surroundings or properly trained. This could potentially lead to severe injuries.
- Static electricity: Abrasive blasting equipment may generate static electricity. If the equipment is not grounded correctly, employees face the risk of electric shock.
- Vibration: The prolonged use of abrasive blasting equipment exposes operators to hand and arm vibrations, leading to a condition known as vibration syndrome. Vibration syndrome includes symptoms such as tingling, numbness and pain.
- Slips: Operators of abrasive blasting equipment are exposed to slippery surfaces resulting from blasting particles. This could lead to slips and falls.
- Heat: Abrasive blasting equipment operators are at risk of heat-related illnesses due to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) for long periods or working in hot environments.
Safety Equipment Checklist
You can minimize the risks associated with abrasive blasting by using the right personal safety equipment. At Finishing Systems, we offer reliable, comfortable, high-quality abrasive blasting safety equipment and accessories to protect you and your employees from potential hazards. Here’s the safety gear you’ll want to add to your abrasive blasting checklist:
- Respirator: A respirator protects an operator from toxic particles in the air. We carry a range of air-supplied respirators to suit the job. We also offer a respirator with built-in hearing protection within the helmet to further protect your operators.
- Climate control device: You can help prevent prolonged exposure to heat and heat-related illnesses with a climate control device. For example, the RPB® C40™ Climate Control Device combines a lightweight belt and a simple lever to cool or warm the temperature inside a respirator easily, so an operator can work comfortably and safely no matter where they are.
- Eye and face protection: Workers around an abrasive blasting area should also protect themselves with proper eye protection.
- Gloves: Choose heavy-duty RPB safety gloves made of durable material, like canvas or leather, that protect the entire forearm. The material should be designed to prevent particle abrasion. Also, consider choosing gloves designed to reduce the impact of vibrations.
- Apron or blast suit: Workers need to protect their bodies from abrasive particles by wearing an apron or coveralls. For maximum protection, consider a breathable but heavy-duty blast suit that protects the arms and the front of the body.
- Safety shoes or boots: Footwear should protect operators from particulate matter and be made of tough material. Steel-tip boots are durable and protect toes from falling objects and punctures. Look for features like slip-resistance as well.
- Hearing protection: If your respirators do not include hearing protection, it’s crucial employees wear comfortable ear muffs or properly rated earplugs to protect their hearing.
How to Begin Every Project Safely
Every abrasive blasting project should begin with a safety procedure to ensure the equipment is ready for proper use. Below you’ll find a checklist to help you and employees inspect your blasting equipment, surroundings and PPE for safety.
The typical abrasive blast system consists of an air compressor, air supply hose, abrasive blaster, blast hose and blast nozzle. All of these components work together to deliver a powerful stream of abrasive material. Before you start working, inspect the following abrasive blasting components:
An air compressor powers the abrasive blasting equipment. Consider the following before you begin:
- Is the air compressor maintained and serviced?
- Is it equipped with a pressure relief valve?
- Does the air compressor meet your air supply requirements?
- Is the air compressor located upwind of blasting operations?
- Is the air compressor at a safe distance from the blasting equipment?
The blast vessel, also called the pressure vessel, is the tank filled with compressed air and the abrasive material. Answer the following:
- Is the inside and outside of the blast vessel free of corrosion, cracks, dents, bulges or other forms of damage?
- Is the inside of the blast vessel free of moisture and debris?
- Does the blast vessel contain any leaks?
- Has the blast vessel been depressurized before loading the abrasive?
Valves, Hoses, Pipes, Wires and Fittings
Your machine’s parts undergo a lot of stress during blasting applications, so it’s critical to check these components for wear and tear regularly. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are all valves, hoses, pipes, wires and fittings in good condition and free of leaks, cracks, holes or other damage?
- Are there any soft spots in the blast, air or remote control hoses?
- Are blast and air hose gaskets free of leaks and visible wear?
- Are whip checks and safety pins installed on all connections?
- Is the size of the blast hose three or four times the size of the nozzle orifice?
The blast nozzle size determines the amount of airflow and abrasive material required. Check the following:
- Is the blast nozzle thread or jacket damaged?
- Is it sized appropriately for the job’s requirements?
- Has the nozzle’s orifice size increased by 1/16 inches, and if so, will it be replaced?
Consider the abrasive materials you plan to use for blasting applications before you begin, and be sure you can answer the following questions:
- Is the abrasive material meant to be used with the blasting equipment?
- Is the abrasive material free of trash or other debris?
- Have you reviewed the Material Safety Data Sheet for the abrasive you plan to use?
- Is the material non-toxic, or does it contain an acceptable level of toxic substances according to OSHA?
- Is the material dry?
Inspect the blast objects and check for the following:
- Is the object adequately secured?
- Is the object used to store non-flammable materials only?
Consider the job site and your surroundings. Answer these questions:
- Have you established a hazardous blasting zone?
- Have you protected electrical lines in the area from blasting applications?
- Is the site free of tripping, falling or crushing hazards?
- Is the work area well-lit?
- Is the blasting area adequately ventilated?
- Is the blast machine on level ground?
- Are there measures in place to discharge static electricity from the blast nozzle?
- Is the atmosphere free of flammable fumes?
- Is the carbon monoxide monitor tested and calibrated routinely?
All workers must wear appropriate PPE to protect themselves from the abrasive blast stream and dust. Be sure to inspect PPE before blasting, and check off the following:
- Does the respirator meet the standards set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health?
- Does the respirator cover the neck, head and shoulders?
- Does the respirator include air filters that meet the requirements for OSHA’s Grade D breathing air?
- Is the respirator free of damage?
- Are eye protection items in good condition and free of damaged or missing components?
- Are footwear and gloves free of tears, rips and punctures?
- Is proper ear protection available such as earplugs or earmuffs?
Practicing Personal Hygiene Habits During Projects
To help your remain safe during and between projects, you need to establish personal hygiene habits for workers. OSHA recommends including the following in your safety plan:
- Don’t allow workers to eat, drink or smoke in blasting areas.
- Provide wash stations so employees can clean their hands and faces frequently.
- Ask workers to vacuum or remove contaminated clothing before eating, drinking or smoking.
- Offer showers and change areas for workers to use at the end of their shifts.
- Ask workers to keep contaminated PPE and clothes out of clean areas.
Contact Finishing Systems for Your Abrasive Blasting Needs
Abrasive blasting quickly frees an object of rust, paint, coatings and other materials to give you a clean surface for your next application. By using the right PPE and regularly inspecting your equipment, you can enjoy the efficiency and power of abrasive blasting without sacrificing safety, production levels or worker satisfaction. You’ll keep workers on the job and your customers satisfied when you use quality equipment and prioritize safety.
At Finishing Systems, we carry the gear and supplies you need to complete abrasive blasting operations safely, from our selection of high-quality abrasive mediums to portable blast equipment. We are your abrasive blasting experts who are committed to finding solutions and helping our customers succeed. To learn more about our abrasives, equipment or services, contact us today!