Safety Articles

Spotlight On: Respiratory Protection

Photos courtesy of Allegro Industries and Bullard

Many jobsites pose unique air quality challenges due to the materials and processes involved. To ensure that workers can breathe clean air and avoid overexposure to dusty and/or vaporous conditions, respirators are often necessary. Exposure to silica dust, which occurs when contractors perform many common tasks, is linked to a heightened risk of silicosis, lung cancer, kidney disease, and other respiratory diseases, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Meanwhile, the chemicals that comprise coatings, such as common epoxies and resins, can lead to issues if the worker is not properly protected. These may include skin and eye irritation, allergic skin reactions, respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs) irritation, allergic respiratory reactions, asthma-like symptoms, or breathing difficulties, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When these problems occur, they’re often through inhalation of the coating’s fumes or if it touches the skin or eyes.

“[A contractor using] any type of mechanism that uses impact, pulverization, or erosion to create a surface texture for proper surface preparation needs to consider proper protective equipment,” said Mitch Kiser, product manager for industrial respiratory protection at Bullard. “Even more so when the substrate itself could be a source of respirable dust that could be inhaled. Dust masks are commonly seen as a standard PPE [personal protective equipment] requirement.”

These days, contractors are becoming increasingly aware of OSHA’s stricter standard for crystalline silica. As of September 2017, silica exposure must be limited to 50 μg/m3 (0.05 mg/m3) as averaged over an eight-hour shift. OSHA recommends that contractors, after identifying the hazard(s), compare the airborne exposure levels relative to permissible exposure limits (PELs) and then determine the level of protection needed for compliance. Generally, contractors can protect against particulate hazards — such as dust — with a particle filter, and they can protect against gas and vapors with a cartridge. If both types of hazards are present, combination cartridges are an option that can filter out both particles and gas or vapors.

While the new rules have not always been tightly enforced, that could soon change. “To this point, the enforcement of the new OSHA regulations has been light… and that may provide a false sense of security that everything is just business as usual,” said Jan Wienczkowski, marketing manager at surface preparation specialists General Equipment Co. “Eventually, though, the enforcement will be there. So it’s best to be ahead of the game, not only to avoid sanctions, but — most importantly — to protect your most important asset, your people.”

The only respirators OSHA supports are those approved by National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). All NIOSH-approved respirators have an assigned protection factor (APF), which can range from 10 to 10,000. To determine what level a jobsite needs, the exposure levels should be divided by the exposure limit. For instance, an APF of 10 means the respirator can protect against exposure levels that are up to 10 times the limit for that hazard. If the exposure level is 500 parts per million (ppm) and the limit is 50 ppm, then an APF of 10 would be sufficient. If a higher factor is needed, numerous protective respirators — such as the full-face models — are available from respiratory specialists, while powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) systems are another option.

Bullard is among many suppliers. Bullard offers a complete abrasive blasting line, including the GVX and 88VX blast helmet respirators. These products are popular for use during abrasive blasting and offer workers a 1,000 APF along with head protection and high-impact face protection. Further, these supplied-air respirators help mitigate heat stress with climate tubes and a torso cooling system. One of the company’s latest grinding and cutting respirators is the Bullard HMX, a multipurpose hard-shell respirator offering 1,000 APF for respiratory, head, and face protection. It can be used with a supplied-air system or a PAPR system.

Another heavy-duty option is the new Cold-Air Systems from Allegro Industries, which offer industrial workers refrigerated air supply. The systems, which come in one- and two-worker models with a full mask, hood, and 100-foot (30.5 m) breathing hose for each user, can maximize productivity and minimize issues related to heat stroke, heat exhaustion, dehydration, nausea, and cramps. While the systems improve worker safety and comfort, they also help reduce the frequency and duration of breaks. Each 76-pound (34.5 kg) unit comes sealed with a removable, washable filter, and it is easily transportable with an extendable handle and two rugged wheels.

In early 2020 , Bullard introduced a new portable air quality box, AirGuard, to its line of respiratory protection. The AirGuard, which digitally displays and logs the status and quality of a worker’s breathing air, is an innovative solution for workers requiring Grade D breathing air to meet OSHA requirements. With sensors for carbon monoxide and differential dew point, the unit offers a three-stage filtration system to remove oils, water, solid particles, and unpleasant odors.

Regardless of the respiratory choice, comfort and compatibility with PPE should be considered as well. With half-face respirators, glasses might compete for space on the same part of the face. Thus, it can be important to find equipment that fits together without causing leakage around the respirator edges or compromising eye protection.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from CoatingsPro’s annual safety roundup. With the current novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, respiratory issues, in general, seem to be taking top billing in the news, with discussions on respirators, dust masks, ventilators, and the like.

Safety has always been a priority for coatings contractors, and 2020 is definitely no different. In addition to respiratory protection, the full safety roundup includes information useful for coatings contractors on access; fall, head and hearing, hand, knee, and foot protection; and body coverings. 

And get updates on how PPE companies, such as Bullard and KEEN footwear, and others are supporting those fighting the COVID-19 pandemic by tuning into views shared in CoatingsPro’s podcast series. In the meantime, stay safe and happy coating.

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