Abrasive Blasting

Abrasive blasting is the forcible application of an abrasive to a surface by pneumatic pressure, hydraulic pressure, or centrifugal force. Commonly known as sandblasting due to the use of sand as the abrasive.

An abrasive is a solid substance used in an abrasive blasting operation to change the appearance of the surface on which the blasting operation is performed. Abrasives are also referred to as blast agents.

Abrasive Blasting

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What are the hazards associated with abrasive blasting?

The hazards associated with abrasive blasting can impact the health of workers performing abrasive blasting and workers in close proximity to an abrasive blasting operation. Abrasive blasting produces respirable size particles when the blasting abrasive impacts the surface of the substrate on which abrasive blasting is done. When the blasting abrasive or the substrate on which blasting is done contains silica, exposure to respirable crystalline silica can occur. In the absence of appropriate engineering controls (e.g., exhaust ventilation) and/or appropriate respiratory protection, continuous exposure can lead to the development of silicosis in exposed workers.

Abrasive blasting can also expose workers to toxic metals such as lead through inhalation when abrasive blasting is performed on substrates that contain toxic metals or are coated with substances that contain a toxic metal, such as lead-based paint.  

Exposure to excessive noise also occurs during abrasive blasting operations. This, along with the inhalation hazards discussed, becomes magnified when abrasive blasting occurs in an enclosed space.


What can I do to protect myself and others?

Substitution. Use silica-free abrasives for abrasive blasting operations whenever possible. A wide variety of silica-free abrasives are available including, but are not limited to, stainless steel shot, garnet and crushed nut shells.

Engineering controls. Whenever possible, abrasive blasting operations should be conducted in an enclosure, such as a blast cabinet, that isolates the blasting operation and the airborne contaminants generated from the worker. When this is not possible, the use of ventilation to move contaminated air away from the employee should be utilized.

Personal protective equipment. When substitution and engineering controls are not sufficient to maintain airborne exposures below permissible exposure limits (PELs) or, in the absence of applicable PELs, recommended exposure limits, appropriate respiratory protection must be used. The only type of respirator that is NIOSH-approved for use in abrasive blasting operations is a Type CE supplied-air respirator which incorporates additional protection to prevent scratching of the face shield by abrasives and other particles generated.

What resources are available to assist employers?

Training and Outreach Services

Presentations on a variety of topics associated with abrasive blasting are available to assist employers in training their staff. These include: silica; noise exposurehazard communication; respiratory protection; personal protective equipment; health hazards special emphasis program; and confined spaces. Each of these presentations should be modified to address site-specific conditions and hazards. 

In addition, the education, training and technical assistance bureau provides free online safety and health training and outreach services (i.e., speaker's bureau requests, safety booths) upon request. 

Lastly, the NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos (including streaming video service) and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC).

Safety and Health Programs

Example safety and health programs are available for employers to download and adapt to their specific conditions. Other safety and health programs relative to abrasive blasting include: hazard communication program; personal protective equipment program; respiratory protection program; confined space entry program and hearing conservation program.

A-Z Safety and Health Topics

The A-Z topics pages on noiserespiratory protectionhazard communicationconfined spaces and PPE can provide additional resource information.

Consultation Services

 Lastly, the consultative services bureau provides free and confidential onsite consultation regarding worksite safety and health hazards.


Which standards apply?

OSH has adopted the following standards which are applicable to abrasive blasting in North Carolina. Note: Please also check the standards information and activity webpage to see if there has been any recent or upcoming regulatory activity on this topic. 

General Industry

Maritime, Shipyard Employment


Other Applicable Standards

The Which OSHA Standards Apply webpage can also help identify other standards that may be applicable to your worksite.


Where can I learn more?

Industry Guides

Compliance Documents

  • Compliance Directive: CPL 02-00-124 - Multi-Employer Citation Policy provides guidance to Compliance Officers regarding the issuance of citations for employers who exercise control in creating, controlling, exposing and correcting hazards for their employees and those of other employers on site.

  • Operational Procedure Notice: OPN 135 - Special Emphasis Program for Exposures to Health Hazards provides Compliance Officers with guidance regarding the conduct of inspections where employees may be exposed to specific chemical substances, including silica and lead.

Technical Assistance

If you would like to receive interpretive guidance on this or any other OSH standard or topic, you can submit your questions using the Ask OSH web form, by e-mail to ask.osh@labor.nc.gov or by calling 919-707-7876.