Because of their strong adhesive properties, chemical and heat resistance and toughness, the use of epoxy coating systems has expanded in popularity. But applicators need to understand the risks associated with using epoxy products and know the proper safety guidelines. In order to minimize the potential health effects that vary based on the type and duration of exposure, there are steps that the crew can take. These systems can be used safely as long as appropriate ventilations, proper hygiene, work practices, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are considered.
Resinous systems are chemical mixtures containing at a minimum two parts. Epoxy has at least the resin and a curing agent. Glycidyl ethers of alcohols are the most common resins. Bisphenol-A diglycidyl ether (DGEBA) accounts for more than 75% of the epoxy resins used in industrial applications. The most common curing agents come from a large class of compounds called amines. Polyamide and cycloaliphatic amine curing agents may be less dangerous than simpler aliphatic chemicals.
When cured the chemicals form a hard, durable plastic known as epoxy. The systems might also contain other chemicals including fillers, pigments, and solvents. In a single-component epoxy system, the potentially hazardous monomers are already partly reacted. In two-part epoxy systems, the monomers have to be mixed together. Also available are reduced-solvent content or solvent-free products. Once cured and finished, epoxies are usually only dangerous if burned, cut or sanded.
Potential health hazards vary but can contribute to a sensitization to epoxy. Types of exposures include skin and eye irritation, allergic skin reactions, respiratory tract irritation, and allergic respiratory reactions, asthma-like symptoms, or breathing difficulties. These usually happen after inhalation of the epoxy or if it makes contact with the skin or eyes. Prolonged or repeated exposure may add to the risk of injury or illness.
Epoxies might pose a greater risk for pregnant women, according to the CDC. OSHA requires that the manufacturer or vender provide MSDS for each product. Crews should refer to it for details on each product and symptoms of health effects.
The first step in safety is ventilation. Labels often instruct those applying to do so with adequate ventilation. This will help to keep chemical vapors from building up in the work area. According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, one important step is the use of local exhaust, throughout the process, including the surface preparation phase.
An option to use with ventilation is dilution ventilation. Meaning using fans and open windows to bring fresh air into the workspace.
Another step to reduce exposure to epoxies is simply proper work practices. Use disposable containers, rather than bowls for mixing and pouring. This will reduce the product handling. Another way is to purchase resins and hardeners in packages that allow the applicator to mix together before opening the bags.
Good housekeeping is a simple method that helps to prevent exposure, for example:
1. Keeping work and storage areas uncluttered and clean
2. Keeping chemical containers tightly covered when not in use
3. Wiping up spills with cotton rags or other absorbent materials promptly, then disposing of the rags
4. Cleaning tools after use
5. Providing a changing area for workers to change from work clothes to street clothes, and keeping the two separated
6. Clean areas for breaks and lunch, separate from the work area may help keep the epoxy parts and systems contained.
Both workers and supervisors should be trained in good housekeeping and be vigilant about it. Materials and supplies should be regularly supplied for housekeeping, including brooms, mops, chemical absorbers for floors, water and waste receptacles.
PPE is the most important step in preventing exposure to epoxy chemicals, and crew members should always follow the manufacturers recommendation. Some general PPE recommendations are:
• Eye Protection: Chemical goggles with side shields.
• Gloves: Hand protection options like, ethylene vinyl alcohol laminate, butyl rubber, nitrile rubber or neoprene. Cotton and latex gloves aren’t sufficient to protect installers from epoxies.
• Boots: Use with pants to protect the skin and prevent chemicals from entering through the top of the boots.
• Respirator: Some options include an organic vapor respirator, a full-face air purifying respirator for organic vapors, or a self-contained breather apparatus.
• Jewelry: All jewelry should be removed when on the job because chemicals can collect under it.
• Changing clothes: Workers should change into clean clothes at the end of the shift, before leaving work. The helps prevent the epoxy from spreading to auto interior.
While epoxy floors are an amazing choice for the home, office, factory, or any place else; steps must be taken to ensure the health of the team doing the work. There are potential health hazards, but with the right steps taken, those can be minimized. As always, an expert should be consulted for specific guidelines and practices. For more information contact: OSHA www.osha.gov