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Know Your Rights: How the Law Protects Workers Injured in Sandblasting Accidents

Worker sandblasting, legal guide for workers injured in sandblasting accidents

If you work in construction or manufacturing, you’ve likely navigated the complicated and dangerous world of sandblasting. For those who operate the complex machinery needed for sandblasting—and, importantly, for those who work in its vicinity—sandblasting presents incredible risks that can result in horrors like cancer, silicosis, hearing loss, or even death.

Need To Know:

  • If you operate a sandblasting machine on any job site, your employer is legally responsible for ensuring that you are equipped with proper safety gear.
  • While sandblasting injury and illness statistics are low, there are secondary-cause accidents that can occur while working on a sandblasting site.
  • Improper or incomplete clean-up on a job site after sandblasting can leave workers at risk for developing serious respiratory issues.

Sandblasting, also called abrasive blasting, combines minuscule abrasive media with a highly-pressurized air stream that can clean, prepare, and finish almost any surface in record time. While effective, the process can be dangerous.

In This Article:

The Dangers of Sandblasting

The same versatility and efficiency that makes sandblasting so popular is, in part, what makes it so dangerous. The combination of a high-pressure output and minuscule ablative matter creates the perfect storm of health hazards.

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that the most common type of sandblasting accident was inhalation of abrasive material. Other common types of accidents included falls, contact with abrasive material, and exposure to loud noise. The most common types of injuries suffered by sandblasting workers were respiratory injuries, eye injuries, and skin injuries. If you have suffered any of the following injuries, you may be owed compensation.

Inhalation of Toxic Substances

The inhalation of toxic substances like lead-based paint, asbestos, or other hazardous materials, which may be contained in or blasted from the surfaces, can pose serious health risks. Proper testing, containment, and disposal procedures are essential when working with such materials.

Silicosis, a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust, the common component of sand and other abrasive materials, is a common side effect of improperly conducted sandblasting. This dust is so small that, once inhaled, it can travel all the way down into the lungs, causing scarring to organs and making it difficult to breathe. In severe cases, silicosis can be fatal. Long-term exposure to silica dust has also been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory problems, such as bronchitis and asthma.


Without protective gloves and coveralls, which the employer or contractor is legally required to provide employees, workers can suffer skin abrasions if abrasive particles come into contact with the body. Even just handling the hoses and nozzles of sandblasting equipment can pose a risk of cuts and lacerations to the skin.

Hearing Loss and Blindness

When blasting metal items, the combination of metal abrasives from the sandblast machine and a metal surface being cleaned  can cause explosive dust . These dust clouds can cause eye injuries, such as corneal abrasions and blindness. And, because sandblasting operations can be very noisy, long-term exposure to the noise can cause hearing loss, even full deafness.

Physical Strain

Sandblasting equipment—heavy and complex—exerts great physical strain on the human body. As with any large-scale machinery, improper use may lead to fatigue, muscle strains, and overexertion. Adequate training, rest, and ergonomic considerations are important to reduce these risks.

Serious Burns and Injuries

Finally, sandblasting poses a risk of fire and explosions. In environments where flammable materials are present, the static electricity generated during sandblasting can spark a potentially catastrophic blaze.

Secondary-Cause Accidents

It’s uncommon for a worker to engage in sandblasting without protective gear, which is why statistics for sandblasting injuries are low (a firefighter wouldn’t run into a burning building without their suit, mask, goggles, and helmet). What is common are other types of accidents that occur because sandblasting equipment is so cumbersome and disruptive to any work site. These are called secondary-cause accidents.

Secondary-cause accidents on a sandblasting site could look like a crush injury, slip and fall, or . If you sustain a crush injury while using sandblasting equipment in a confined space because your employer didn’t plan to provide sufficient space for the job, the injury will likely be reported as a crush injury—not a sandblasting one. You may find yourself on a scaffold or boom while sandblasting, and you fall off the scaffold because the sandblasting and the scaffold together were not safe, but this likely gets recorded as a scaffold accident instead.

The audibility of any area in which a sandblaster is present is diminished, making it difficult for workers to hear the reverse-beep of a truck or the instruction to clear an area, which could lead to a crush injury. Because sandblasters are incredibly cumbersome, the practice lends itself to a range of errors and injuries that extend beyond the process of use.

Faulty Gear and Unsafe Worksites Can Cause Serious Injury

It is the employer’s legal responsibility to ensure that the gear they provide complies with NIOSH standards. If you believe your employer has not provided compliant safety gear and you were injured or are experiencing illness, the employer or another party may be liable for negligence.

Just as you couldn’t deep-sea dive without scuba equipment, no sandblast operator can use the machinery without safety gear. Sandblasting requires a special helmet, respirator, tight-fitting eye goggles, ear plugs, leather or rubber gloves and boots, and a full body suit to protect from the noise and harmful flying particles.

Illness or injury can occur if your safety gear is inadequate or faulty. Employers have the responsibility to ensure that all sandblasting gear meets the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) standards.

Workers Must Be Provided a Safe Worksite

A key facet of ensuring the safety of sandblasting workers lies in the planning and set-up phase of a worksite and in worksite clean-up.

Because sandblasting machines are enormous and cumbersome—a room sandblaster is 10 feet in width, height, and length, while a blast room takes up twice as much space—spatial planning is a key component of ensuring the safety of all workers on a sandblast site, including those who are not actually operating the machine. Without enough space to move about a site, workers are more likely to experience a crush injury or fall.

In addition to the space required for the sandblast machine itself, an employer or contractor in charge of the job site needs to allocate enough space for the storage of abrasive materials, ventilation equipment, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Improper Worksite Cleanup Can Leave Hazards Behind

Cleaning up after a sandblasting operation is essential for both safety and environmental reasons. Removing silica dust from both the air and surfaces of a sandblasting site in the cleanup phase is key for preventing future unnecessary illnesses for the next occupants of a work site, who could unknowingly touch or breathe the silica dust. An employer or contractor is responsible for ensuring proper ventilation in the cleanup phase.

Every single surface that may have been exposed to sandblasting—including walls, floors, machinery, and equipment—must be removed with cleaning agents designed to absorb the dust. Contaminated materials—including the used abrasive media, sandblasting debris, and any cleaning cloths or rags—must be disposed of in the manner required of hazardous waste. It is illegal to dispose of contaminated sandblast materials in a landfill or waterway. Before work can resume on the job site, a dust monitor must be deployed to ensure that the levels are within a safe range.If you are a painter, plumber, or other worker hired to perform a job where sandblasting is taking place, and you develop any of the aforementioned illnesses, it may be that proper clean-up and waste disposal protocols were not followed. In such a case, the employer, general contractor, subcontractor, or other party responsible for the safety of workers at a construction site could be held liable.

Consult an Experienced Work Injury Lawyer

Because of the wide range of data at play in building an injury case after a sandblasting accident, it’s important to enlist the services of experienced personal injury lawyers. The attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy understand how to navigate the legal complexities of sandblasting-related cases and are here to help.

If you believe you are experiencing poor health conditions or physical pain after working on a sandblasting site, or you were the victim of a secondary-cause accident on a sandblasting site, call us for a free consultation today at 212-736-5300, or fill out our free online form. No human should endure unnecessary suffering as a result of employer negligence—including you.

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