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Frequently Asked Questions

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Structural Repair: Welding

What are some of the possible health effects of welding?
Bronchitis, airway irritation, other respiratory illnesses, lung cancer and nervous system damage, arc welder's siderosis, metal fume fever and infertility.
What are some of the symptoms of metal fume fever?
Fever, chills, headache, nausea, shortness of breath, muscle pain and a metallic taste in the mouth.
How can I protect myself when welding?
Wear leather gloves, a jacket, welder's helmet and a respirator with an appropriate cartridge and have good ventilation.
What is metal fume and where does it come from?
During welding, some of the metal vaporizes and condenses in the air. Metal fume is this smoke you see when welding.
Why is metal fume dangerous?
The metal particles in metal fumes are easily inhaled deep into your lungs. They cause irritation and eventually lung disease.
Is there any other way that metal fume can harm me?
Yes, if you eat, drink, smoke or take medication anywhere in the area of the fumes, the metals can end up in your blood.
Why is it dangerous to weld on old paint?
Old paint may contain lead, chromium or other toxic metals. When heated, the metals in the paint can vaporize and you breathe them. This is why it is important to grind off the paint and weld on bare metal surfaces.
Doesn't a welder's helmet or shield protect me from breathing harmful small particles?
No, a welder's helmet protects your eyes from harmful radiation and sparks but does not protect you from breathing dangerous metal fumes.
What type of respirator should I be wearing when welding?
Any half-mask respirator that can filter out small particles. Such respirators usually have 'HEPA' or 'N100' or 'P100' filter designation.
Apart from metal fumes, what other harmful chemicals does welding produce?
Hazardous gases are produced when welding, particularly ozone and nitrogen oxides which are irritating to your breathing passages. The more you weld, the more gases are produced. Ventilation can help get rid of these gases.
If I only do quick welds every once in a while, do I need special ventilation?
No, just make sure your shop has good general dilution ventilation
What ventilation do I need if I usually weld directly on coated surfaces, weld very frequently or weld for extended periods of time?
The shop must have very good general ventilation. In addition, a local exhaust ventilation (LEV) system consisting of a hood and flexible duct is recommended.
What can the shop do to protect workers while welding?
The shop can ensure that there is adequate ventilation such as local exhaust ventilation and general dilution ventilation, and have personal protective equipment available.

Structural Repair: Grinding

Why is dust from grinding dangerous to my health?
Grinding dust may contain abrasive particles from sandpaper, lead and chromium (often found in old paint).
What precautions should I take when grinding old paint?
Wear coveralls, eye protection (safety glasses or goggles), gloves and a respirator. Wear a faceshield, safety glasses and leather gloves when performing extensive grinding.

Surface Preparation: Body Filling (bondo)

What is harmful about using body filler?
Surface filler materials contain a chemical called styrene, which can irritate your respiratory passages and is linked to cancer at high levels. Also, the catalysts used in fillers can cause skin rashes before they are cured.
How can I protect myself when working with body filler?
Always wear gloves when working with filler. When mixing and applying filler, especially for big jobs, a respirator with organic vapor cartridges is recommended. If working with large quantities of filler, work in a well-ventilated area.

Surface Preparation: Sanding

Why should I protect myself when sanding filler or paint?
Sanding produces a lot of fine dust particles, which when inhaled could be irritating to breathing passages and your eyes. The dust may also contains metals, such as lead and chromium, and abrasive particles (from the sanding disks) that are harmful to your health.
How do I get sanding dust into my body?
Through inhalation (breathing) and ingestion (eating). Dust particles from sanding can easily stick to your hands and face. If not washed off, they contaminate food, drinks and cigarettes.
What should I wear while sanding?
A respirator with HEPA filter and gloves should be worn.
Why is it a good idea to wear coveralls when sanding?
Wearing coveralls keeps the dust off your street clothes or uniforms. Removing the coveralls immediately after sanding will minimize your exposure and prevent the dust from being spread all over the shop, potentially exposing others.
What precautions should I take after sanding?
Thoroughly wash your hands and face with soap and water. Don't wear dusty coveralls or clothing into the restroom or the lunch room. Put on clean clothes before heading home.
How can I protect my family from the harmful effects of sanding?
Thoroughly wash your hands and face after sanding. Don't wear dusty coveralls or clothing into your car. Put on clean clothes before heading home. This is especially important if you have children, because children are more affected by the chemicals in the dust, especially the lead.
How can I reduce the amount of dust produced from sanding?
Use wet sanding whenever possible and dry sand with a locally-exhausted (LEV) sander.
What is an LEV sander?
A ventilated sander has holes on the sanding plate which are connected to a vacuum. The sanding disks must also have holes at the same locations. Dust is captured, pulled through the holes and exhausted by the vacuum.
Why are locally-exhausted sanders important?
They reduce the amount of dust released in autobody shops by 90%. This protects the worker who is sanding and also decreases the time and cost of housekeeping.

Painting Tasks: Mixing Paint

How should I protect myself when mixing paints?
Wear nitrile gloves, eye protection (goggles or safety glasses), and a respirator with organic vapor cartridges or use a well-ventilated mixing station. Clean contaminated surfaces or drips when finished.
What is the best way to use local exhaust ventilation (LEV) in the mixing room?
Work as close to the hood as possible so all the fumes will go into the hood.
Can general ventilation be used for a mixing room?
Yes, as long as the vents are set up to draw the fumes away from the painter's face.

Painting Tasks: Spray Painting

What is so harmful about auto paints?
Most auto paints are mixed with a hardener that contains a type of chemical called isocyanate, which is very reactive. This is what makes the paint have a hard finish and resist fading. However, isocyanates also react with parts of our body when we inhale it and can make us ill. Auto paints also contain solvents.
Why is paint spraying hazardous?
When you spray paint, solvents evaporate and small droplets of paint are released into the air. Workers may then inhale these harmful vapors and particles.
When spraying paint, what should I be wearing?
Wear respiratory protection, nitrile gloves, tyvek or nylon coveralls with a hood, and goggles.
What type of respirator is best for spray painting?
A supplied air respirator (SAR) or powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) is preferred for spray painting.
Doesn't the spray booth protect the painter?
No, it protects the paint job and the workers nearby.
What should I do to ensure my safety in the spray booth?
  1. Make sure the booth is operating correctly by checking the air pressure gauge - the gauge should tell if it is necessary to change the exhaust filters.
  2. Minimize overspray by aiming the spray gun at right angles to the surface being coated and spray from 6 inches away from the surface to be painted. A high volume low pressure (HVLP) spray gun will minimize overspray.
  3. Wear respiratory protection, gloves, goggles and coveralls.
  4. Never remove respiratory protection until you have left the booth.
How should priming be done when the booth is unavailable?
Prime in a prep station using nitrile gloves, respiratory protection and ventilation - make sure the air is blowing away from you and others.

Painting Tasks: Gun Cleaning

Why should I keep on my PPE during gun cleaning?
In gun cleaning, you use solvents to get the isocyanate-containing paint off your gun. You need a respirator with organic vapor cartridges to protect you from breathing the solvents; you need nitrile gloves to keep the isocyanates off your hands - and solvents too if not immersed; and a paint suit will keep the paint and solvents off other exposed skin and your street clothes.
Why is it a bad idea to wash my hands in recycled solvent in the gun cleaning machine?
The solvent may look clear, but it can actually contain isocyanates which get concentrated each time a gun is cleaned. When tested with testing strips, the recycled solvent can show very high levels of isocyanates. In addition, the solvents can easily enter your body through the skin and can cause severe dermatitis by drying your skin.
Why is it better to use the gun cleaning machine than to clean the gun by hand?
Cleaning the gun by hand puts a lot more solvent into the air for you - and other workers - to breathe, whereas the machine is a closed system, keeping the vapors inside. Some shops have a system for doing a first rinse by hand, then using the machine to complete the cleaning. This can be effective, but only if you keep the cover closed on the container of waste solvent!

PPE: Respirators

Which type of respirator should I use?
It depends upon what you are doing. If you are spray painting in a booth, you get the most protection from a supplied air respirator (SAR) or powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR). Any other spraying, you should use a cartridge respirator with organic vapor cartridges and paint pads. Organic vapor cartridge respirators should also be used when working with fumes, such as applying bondo or gun cleaning. A cartridge respirator with HEPA (N100) cartridges works well for dry sanding, welding and grinding. Some dusty tasks, such as sweeping, can be done with an N95 dust mask.
How do I know which cartridges to use for my respirator?
Organic vapor cartridges are needed when you are protecting against vapors and gases, and HEPA (N100) or N95 cartridges/dust masks filter out particles and dust.
Which cartridge is best for each repair task?
HEPA (N100) cartridges are best for any dry sanding of paint or bondo and for welding or grinding. Organic vapor cartridges are needed for application of bondo and gun cleaning. An organic vapor cartridge with N95 paint pad is preferred for all spray painting (including priming).
How often should I be fit tested on my respirator?
Each worker should test his respirator for fit at least once a year, and again if anything changes, such as growing a beard, using a new type of respirator, gaining weight, etc.
How often do I need to clean my respirator?
Respirators should be cleaned at the end of the day. The respirator should be cleaned according to the manufacturer's instructions. All parts should be rinsed after washing and allowed to air dry before being put back together.
How should I store my respirator?
Respirators should be stored once they are dry in sealed plastic bags, and should be placed in a safe place where they will not be crushed or deformed.

PPE: Gloves

Do I really need to wear gloves for body shop work?
For certain tasks it is absolutely necessary! Some chemicals go right through your skin into your body. In addition, you can get isocyanates, paints, solvents and dust on your hands and then contaminate everything you touch in the shop, such as your food, drink, cigarettes, etc. and bring it home to your family.
How often should I change my gloves?
Remove and replace your gloves after each use and if they become contaminated. The longer the glove comes in contact with solvents, the more solvents will go through and even dissolve the glove. A ripped glove doesn't protect you.
What type of gloves should I be wearing for paint-related work?
Nitrile gloves are recommended for all paint-related work.
What's wrong with using latex gloves?
Most latex gloves will allow isocyanate to pass through to your skin. Nitrile gloves are better at protecting your skin.
Why do I need to wear gloves while unmasking a car?
Gloves are necessary because the isocyanates in the fresh paint might not be completely cured for days or even weeks. Touching the paint could lead to respiratory problems.

Health Hazards: Solvents

Why do we use solvents?
The solvents hold resins and pigments in liquid form so they can be applied evenly to surfaces.
How am I exposed to solvents?
By breathing them in and by direct contact with your skin.
What are the immediate symptoms of solvent exposure?
Headache, dizziness, "feeling high", defatting/drying of skin, sleepiness.
How do I protect myself when handling solvents?
Wear gloves and long sleeves to keep solvents off your skin. Wear a respirator so you don't breathe in the solvents.
What should I do to limit the amount of solvents I breathe while I'm mixing paints?
Mix in a well ventilated area.
Where can I find a list of the exact solvents contained in each product I use?
The ingredients will be listed on the product label and in the MSDS - the Material Safety Data Sheets.
What is most important for me to wear while wiping a car with solvent?
What gloves should I use when working with solvents?
No gloves will protect from every solvent. Some gloves can be dissolved by some solvents; some solvents will pass through certain types of gloves. In a body shop, nitrile gloves are your best protection against isocyanates in hardeners and offer pretty good protection against most solvents.
How often should I change my gloves?
Remove and replace your gloves after each use and if they become contaminated. The longer a glove is in contact with solvent, the more the solvent will penetrate and even dissolve the glove.
What type of gloves should I use if I have extended contact with solvents?
Select a thicker glove that is resistant to the solvent.

Health Hazards: Isocyanates and Asthma

What are isocyanates?
Isocyanates are a group of very reactive chemicals found in paint hardeners. They cross-link to form a polyurethane finish which is why they are used in clear coats.
Why are isocyanates harmful?
Isocyanates can cause people to become sensitized and some may develop asthma.
What is asthma?
A serious debilitating respiratory disease. Asthma is a disease that involves the airway systems and the lung. It becomes difficult to move air in and out of the lungs.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
Wheezing, pressure, shortness of breath and cough. Asthma is sometimes difficult to diagnose, so it is important to tell your doctor that you work with isocyanates.
How do I get isocyanates in my body?
By inhalation and by skin contact.
What autobody tasks can give me exposure to isocyanates?
Spraying paint or primer, mixing paint with hardeners, cleaning the spray gun, wet or dry sanding fresh paint, compounding and polishing.
Can my family be exposed to isocyanates if I wear my work clothes home?
Yes, you can bring shop contamination to your car and your home on your clothes. Changing out of your work clothes before you come home is a good way to prevent exposing others to isocyanates.