Particulate matter, solvents, noise and vibration
Particulate matter includes both small particles of the object being blasted and the abrasive material.
Find out about the risks associated with particulate matter while abrasive blasting and the steps you can take to stay safe.
On this page:
- Particulate matter
- Coatings and solvents
- Noise and vibration
- Reducing the health impacts
- Recycling abrasive material
- Atmospheric testing
- Fire and explosion
Particulate matter can penetrate workers doing abrasive blasting. Common injuries include:
- eye damage
- severe lacerations
- skin penetrations.
Particulate matter includes both small particles of the object being blasted and the abrasive material. To reduce the possibility of workers being injured by particulate matter, a person conducting a business or undertaking should:
- fit blasting equipment with a fast acting self-actuating cut-off device, or a dead man control, under the direct control of the nozzle operator
- fit blasting equipment with hose whip checks or hose coupling safety locks
- ensure blast hoses are uncoiled when in use
- ensure workers only point the blast nozzle at the work
- ensure workers wear suitable personal protective equipment.
Toxic dust can be created depending on the abrasive material being used and the surface being blasted. Silica dust and lead dust are typical examples of toxic dust.
Silica dust can cause silicosis, a stiffening and scarring of the lungs, which is a permanent and degenerative illness which may result in death. Breathing in silica dust may also lead to the development of some forms of cancer.
Materials containing more than one per cent (1%) crystalline silica must not be used in dry abrasive blasting.
If lead is present in an abrasive material or a surface to be blasted, there are certain things that must be done.
Use a less hazardous abrasive material (PDF, 1.21 MB) where possible.
Coatings and solvents
Coatings and solvents can contain hazardous chemicals, particularly organic solvents, in products such as:
- degreasing or cleaning agents
- paint thinners
Coatings applied by spray painting release more vapours, mists and aerosols into the workplace than coatings applied with brushes or rollers.
A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) should ask the supplier of abrasive materials, coatings and solvents used in the workplace, if the product is a hazardous chemical. If it is, the PCBU should ask the supplier for a safety data sheet (SDS).
Some substances commonly encountered in the abrasive blasting industry may require health monitoring. These include lead and silica. The PCBU's requirements for health monitoring can be found in the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.
For information on dusts, coatings and solvents, see section 3 of the Abrasive blasting code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.13 MB).
Noise and vibration
What is noise?
Noise, is unwanted sound that may damage a person's hearing. The amount of damage caused by noise depends on a number of things, including:
- how much noise is received over a period of time
- the noise intensity or loudness
- the noise frequency or pitch
- the duration and pattern of exposure
- each person's susceptibility to hearing damage.
In the abrasive blasting industry, causes of noise include:
- release of compressed air at the blast nozzle and pot blow-down
- feed air into a protective helmet
- air compressors
- ventilation systems
- blast cabinets
- truck and crane noise.
Find out more about noise.
Abrasive blasters are subject to hand-arm Abrasive blasters are subject to hand-arm vibration from the force of the abrasive moving through the blast hose and nozzle.
Prolonged use of abrasive blasting equipment may lead to a condition known as vibration white finger (VWF) or dead finger or Raynaud's phenomenon. It results from persistent microscopic damage to nerves and blood capillaries in the fingers and hand.
In the early stages the effects are reversible, however, chronic exposure may result in gangrenous and necrotic changes in the fingers. There is no effective treatment to reverse these effects.
More information on vibration is provided in section 4 of the Abrasive blasting code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.13 MB).
For further information go to Safe Work Australia for fact sheets on hand-arm and whole body vibration.
Reducing the health impacts
A person conducting of a business or undertaking (PCBU) must take action to reduce the health impact from dusts, coatings, solvents, noise and vibration by using:
- less dangerous abrasive materials (PDF, 1.13 MB)
- less dangerous surface preparation methods including sodium bicarbonate blasting, carbon dioxide (dry ice) blast cleaning and blast cleaning with reusable sponge abrasives
- a blasting cabinet which is suitable for small objects, is fully sealed and the operator works from outside viewing the object through a sealed window
- a blasting chamber for objects too large to be treated inside a blasting cabinet with operators working inside wearing personal protective equipment
- temporary enclosures used when an object is too large to be transported (a bridge or a water tank) which consists of containment screens such as woven polypropylene fabric or rubber
- exclusion or buffer zones (where personnel, not associated with the blasting activity, are excluded from the vicinity).
Although open air blasting activities are not recommended, there may be sometimes no alternative.
Certain abrasive materials (as hazardous chemicals) and processes are restricted from use in abrasive blasting and spray painting. This includes some radioactive hazardous chemicals. Details of restricted chemicals and processes can be found by referring to Schedule 10, Table 10.3 of Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 .
The PCBU can reduce the number of people exposed to dusts, coatings, solvents, noise and vibration by:
- relocating or enclosing noisy equipment in acoustic enclosures
- moving the abrasive blasting site away from other workers
- doing blasting work outside normal working hours
- not blasting in windy conditions
- stopping other work on a site and moving people away while blasting
- job rotation.
For further information on how to reduce the health impact from dusts, coatings, solvents and noise, refer to Abrasive blasting code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.13 MB) (parts A and B) or the noise area of this site. Find out about silica in the workplace.
Recycling abrasive material
After abrasive blasting, the abrasive material is mixed with dust and particles of the material being removed. It is possible to collect, clean and reuse abrasive material. This involves:
Which is best done by vacuum recovery as this creates least disturbance. Sweeping or compressed air blowdown should be avoided.
The following contaminants should be removed before reuse:
- oversize trash (e.g. rust and paint flakes)
- toxic dust (e.g. lead from paint material)
- nuisance dust (e.g. fine shattered abrasive grains)
- respirable dust (e.g. powdered material that will penetrate to the lower respiratory system).
The collected material will contain various contaminants as well as the reusable abrasive grains. The contaminants must be separated from the media by passing though engineered equipment including airwashes, cyclones and screens as required, before it can be returned to the blast machine for reuse.
A person in control of a business or undertaking (PCBU) should carry out atmospheric testing of the air around an abrasive blasting site for dust, especially when a toxic or hazardous material is involved (e.g. lead) or when a filtered abrasive blasting booth is not used.
Testing can be done before abrasive blasting work starts and during work to monitor the extent of effectiveness of controls and any additional action needed.
The four main components of atmospheric testing are:
- collection of an air sample by a trained specialist
- laboratory analysis
- interpretation of the results and comparison with Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants
- taking action
Monitoring by trained personnel should be conducted in all abrasive blasting applications as part of the initial risk assessment process. This will enable the appropriate respirator to be selected and will ensure that workers and other people are not exposed to harmful dust concentrations.
The selection, use and maintenance of respiratory devices should be undertaken in accordance with AS/NZS 1715 Selection, Use and Maintenance of Respiratory Protective Devices.
Fire and explosion
The dust generated in the abrasive blasting process may be explosive and solvents and coatings used in the protective coating process can be highly volatile and flammable and may create a risk of fire and explosion.
The electrical installation associated with blasting chambers and spray booths must comply with the Australian and New Zealand Standard series AS/NZS 2381.1:2005 Electrical equipment for explosive gas atmospheres – Selection, installation and maintenance – General requirements and AS/NZS 3000:2007 Electrical installations (known as the Australian/New Zealand Wiring Rules).
The risk of fire and explosion in the protective coating industry may be reduced by:
- properly earthing equipment (PDF, 1.25 MB) for static discharges
- control potential ignition sources (e.g. appropriate electrical equipment for the area)
- never spraying paint back into a container when cleaning
- not storing paint or solvent soaked rags
- not using combustion motors in a confined spray painting area
- correctly storing all flammable substances (PDF, 1.21 MB).
Further information on fire and explosion is provided in:
- Abrasive blasting code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.13 MB) (parts A and B)
- Section 355 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.