When You Can’t Breathe…

Has a sprayer ever said to you, “I’m not dragging that hose around!” or “I hate those things,” or “I don’t care,” when you’re asking them to wear fresh air on a job site? What about a sprayer who wears a mask but refuses to shave, or won’t use supplied air when spraying inside a building? It’s an unpopular conversation, but even if it’s rare, we can’t fail here. There are rock-solid reasons why industry safety guidelines require supplied air for the sprayer, and anyone working within 25 feet of them.

IDI techs see all types of job sites across the country. Most of those are great crews, making really good spray foam insulation. Probably the scariest thing we see though is the improper use of PPE. From hands stained from handling chemicals without gloves, or swollen, wrinkled hands from digging parts out of the cleaning solvents, to people spraying in shorts and a tee-shirt with foam droplets all over their arms and legs or overspray in their hair. Exposure to chemicals leads to all kinds of health risks. After almost 15 years in the field, it still baffles me that more installers don’t take it seriously.

While any exposure should be prevented, respiratory protection is the most concerning. You see everything from spraying with the wrong mask or using the right mask with the wrong filter. Sometimes they have the right system and mask, but then they have a full beard preventing it from properly sealing to their face. Then, there were a rare few, who wore no mask at all. It’s as though they didn’t understand that atomized chemicals get into the lungs, react, latch on to walls, expand, and ultimately lead to asthma-like symptoms or worse. I know quite a few people who, even with PPE, can no longer be in the same room, or even a house where SPF is being applied. If you want to research more on this, check out: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/isocyanates/default.html

As field technicians, we can only say so much. Actually, we only make recommendations and strongly urge them to stop what they’re doing. Sadly, sometimes we just get a smirk or a shrug of the shoulders, when it should be taken more seriously. “It’s too heavy,” “just another hose I have to drag around,” “the hose always gets kinked,” “I can’t breathe in it.” You name it, we hear it. At an event, we had a retired applicator in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank come to the branch. He and his sons wanted a rig
evaluation. We pointed out they didn’t have any supplied air on the rig (they were using bandanas as face coverings). The gentleman told us he was positive his condition was from his refusal to spray with a mask. By the end of the conversation, after highlighting the severity of the situation, he made them get a fresh air pump right then. It was an eye-opening experience for everyone.

Over the next couple of months, IDI’s teaming up with Bullard to run specials on supplied air systems and powered air-purifying respirators. Check out the video here for a walk-through of the Bullard standalone fresh air system. I’m highlighting this particular one because it’s my overall choice. It’s durable and dependable for a good price. These standalone systems can run off a job site outlet or wall plug instead of your compressor. And… compressed air on a rig is precious. CAB units are great and even have a built-in CO monitor, but they require an additional 15-30 CFM which usually means upsizing both the compressor and the generator. That can get expensive. Also, the standalone filters last up to 6 months and are easy to change. Make sure you set up a schedule because you have to be diligent to change them. Remember, whatever system you already have, or intend to purchase, OSHA requires that the hose assembly matches the mask. Never make your own fittings, or modify the system in any way. These are tested and approved systems so they must be used the way they were tested.

In summary, these pumps should be on your rigs. Your crews should be using supplied air every time your company sprays foam inside a building. As for other trades or building occupants, keep them out of the area. The keys to keeping your crews, your customers, and your profit, is to maximize safety, limit your liability, and remember to use mechanical ventilation on each and every job.

At IDI, we are dedicated to your success. Our team of experts is standing by to answer questions or alleviate any concerns you may have. Good luck out there and happy spraying!


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