Epoxy is a durable and strong material that is often used in construction for the repair or protection of concrete or steel structures. While its use is beneficial, working with epoxy comes with some risk. Risks are mitigated when safe working procedures are in place. In this using-epoxy-safely article, we go through the steps for working with epoxy safely, exposure issues, symptoms, and care.
How Does Epoxy Effect Humans
Epoxy is a chemical and as such it can irritate the body in a variety of ways. Overexposure to epoxy occurs by inhalation, direct contact, fume-absorption. Epoxy can be hazardous as a volatile (airborne fume) or as a particulate (dust or granules from sanding or mixing.)
Irritation from fumes can occur externally or internally. Direct skin contact can cause burning, but the greater danger comes from fume contact with cell membranes such as those in the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat. Symptoms may include burns, irritation or allergic reaction. Always read and follow the MSDS sheet information before working with epoxy. Also, work in a well-ventilated area either with direct wind current or by using a mechanical ventilator to remove fumes.
The Many Names of Epoxy
Throughout the construction industry epoxy goes by several different names. They are all epoxy and should be handled with care. Those names include:
- Epoxy Resin
- Epoxy Polymers
- Epoxy Coating
- Epoxy Paint
Regardless of the name, epoxy should be handled safely and mindfully so as to prevent accidental injury or exposure.
Tools and Engineering Controls for the Safe Use of Epoxy
Storage: Storage of Epoxy and Catalysts should always be in tightly sealed containers that prevent evaporation or leaching of fumes.
Ventilation: Industrial-grade hoods and ventilation systems should be used to control indoor air pollution or air contaminated with epoxy fumes. The goal of such equipment is to remove contaminated air before it becomes breathable. A respiratory mask that is rated for use with volatiles (VOCs) is also recommended.
Enclosures: Enclosures are very helpful when working with heat and epoxy, such as during the curing process. Heating epoxy causes greater off-gassing and the enclosure contains those fumes and pollutants until the ventilation system can remove them. Enclosures allow work to continue in other areas of a construction process by reducing the threat of exposure to epoxy fumes and VOCs.
Automation: Where possible, automation removes humans from an area where epoxy may be used. It may also allow for humans to work in the same area at a safer distance or even in an enclosure.
Personal Protection Equipment: PPE, or Personal Protection Equipment works in conjunction with engineering controls to increase safety by reducing exposure to chemicals. Basic PPE includes eye protectant such as goggles or a face shield. Gloves, aprons, and long sleeved clothing should be used to help reduce or prevent skin contract. Protective clothing such as gloves should be rated for use with epoxy. A fitted air-respiratory mask should be used whenever a VOC is present. The PPE requirements for epoxy use should mirror the PPE requirements in the construction companies safety manual. Training for effective and safe use of PPE is also recommended.
Individual Responsibility to Reduce Exposure
People who work with epoxy should follow a heightened personal hygiene protocol. Such a protocol includes washing epoxy residue off skin immediately. Caring for your skin by keeping it hydrated as dry skin absorbs chemicals. Making sure that hands, fingernails, and nail beds are free of epoxy residue. A moisturizing lotion helps to protect skin by forming a thin barrier.
Clothing should be removed and stored outside or washed immediately when you return home. Do not store dirty work clothing with epoxy residue in the same spot as other laundry.
Training and Teaching
Construction companies should take the time to train their employees in the safe handling of epoxy. This includes emergency response to exposure, such as eye splash situations. By teaching employees, the dangers warning signs of chemical exposure you decrease the risk of preventable accidents. Working smart is a valuable tool.
In addition to training and education about epoxy, train employees on the proper use of PPE and engineering controls. Doing so enables these tools to be used properly and can help reduce the risk of injury.
Education about common and uncommon symptoms of chemical exposure is also a valuable tool. By recognizing minor symptoms, employees can sometimes avoid more serious injury.
Epoxy is found in many products and is used as a sealant and repair product for both steel and cement. It is a product that has a high likely hood of being used on most construction sites. Being knowledgeable about the dangers of using epoxy helps to make its use more positive.