Powder Coating Q&A: Requirements for Breathing PPE in a Powder Operation
Q. We are installing a new powder coating system and we want to be sure we are compliant with relevant health and safety standards. What kind of breathing protection is required?
A. Powder materials do not have vapor like liquid paint, so the challenge is to reduce exposure to the dust and avoid inhalation.
The vast majority of powder materials are non-toxic to humans, but the dust particles have sharp edges and they can cause irritation to the breathing passage or eyes.
The minimum requirement is a National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety-approved dust mask and safety glasses. Many powder booths are designed with a running conveyor with manual operators located outside the booth who reach into an opening to apply the powder as the parts are conveyed. In this type of installation, the masks work well to protect the operator from dust exposure.
In a situation where an operator is spraying powder inside the booth enclosure, the exposure is much higher and the requirements are adjusted accordingly. Spray operators inside the booth should have a complete hood with a fresh air supply connected to pressurize the area under the hood. This will prevent the operator from inhaling an excess amount of powder dust.
I have seen some operators fitted with respirators, though this is unnecessary and not recommended. A breathing respirator is designed to capture vapor in a carbon filter and is not specifically suited to arresting dust. It is heavy, it has to be properly fitted and it does not really fit the need of the operator.
People who are working around the booths doing support labor for the application system should also consider wearing dust masks to limit exposure. Not mandatory but very useful, especially if they are sweeping, poring, scooping or otherwise handling the powder, to avoid irritation that can occur from breathing in the dust.
A final word on the subject of handling: Be sure your operators wash the powder off their skin instead of using an air hose to blow it off. The pressure from the air hose is useful when blowing powder off of clothing or a surface during cleaning, but it can cause the powder to penetrate into the pores of the skin, causing skin irritation.
Powder is a very safe material, especially compared with other coating alternatives. However, take care to limit contact and inhalation to avoid any problems.
Originally published in the June 2016 issue.
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