How to stay safe when working with epoxy resin based adhesives, filler and primer
What Is Epoxy Resin?
Epoxies transformed the world more than anyone ever thought possible when they were first discovered. From flooring to filling, the incredibly durable material seemingly has no end to its uses. This is particularly true in the marine and composites industries. There is probably not a day that goes by in your workplace that epoxy is not used (or thought about) in some way or another. It’s an essential component that we simply could not live without.
Epoxy resins were first used in the aerospace industry in the 1950’s and were found as a by-product of petrochemical operations. Once the amazing properties of this family of compounds were realised they quickly spread throughout the world’s many different industries. Today it’s hard to imagine life without the amazing qualities epoxies provide.
Epoxies are an incredibly durable material that can be used to protect just about anything (and can be applied with the minimum of effort). Their adhesion capabilities have made them highly useful in a wide range of applications. This is especially true when epoxy’s complete resistance to water is taken into account. For more techinical information, Net Composites put together an informative article on what epoxy resin is comprised of.
In the marine industry, epoxy is considered to be somewhat of a wonder material. Some interesting uses of it are:
- Coatings for secondary containment methods and to improve older wooden vessels
- Creating non-skid decks for boats of all shapes and sizes
- Protecting propellers from organisms that would otherwise attach themselves while in the water
- Coatings to maintain and preserve the exterior of vessels
This is just the tip of the iceberg, there are 1001 other uses for epoxies that we are not going to list for obvious reasons.
While times are changing and more and more emphasis is being put on safety each year, for many people it’s still an afterthought. The idea that “common sense is good enough” is one that can be found in workshops up and down the country (without difficulty).
To be honest, it's difficult to blame people who think this way. The health and safety regulations that are put out by the government are long, boring, and quite honestly – mostly common sense.
However, in-between all this common sense (and seemingly needless) information there are a few little nuggets of good advice that you may not know. Today we are going to do you a favour and do the boring reading for you. We’re going to condense and dissect the recommended safety information and give you an overview of what you need to do (and why you need to do it).
We are going to do our best to ensure that everything we write in this article is complete and true. However, we make no claims to this being a viable alternative to the official safety documents. We highly recommend that you read as much official literature about safety as possible
Let's get started.
Safely Using Epoxy Resin Filler
Epoxy resin fillers are one of the most common kinds of epoxy found in the marine and composites industries. To be totally honest professionals in these industries are exposed to chemicals and compounds that are far more dangerous than epoxy resins on a daily basis.
But that being said, there are still some nasty accidents that can happen (and side effects that can arise from improper usage). This stuff deserves your respect.
Respiratory Protection For Resin Filler
The fumes given off by epoxy are generally seen to be reasonably harmless compared to some other stuff in the marine and composites industries. That being said, you probably don’t want to be breathing them in.
On the other hand, when you are sanding epoxy resin, the dust that is created can be pretty darn nasty and can cause a wide range of health issues. You don’t want to be breathing this stuff in either, it’s much worse than the fumes.
Required Protection: A half face respirator that is capable of filtering out the particulate in the air is enough to stay safe. This being said, more comprehensive respirators are going to be even safer and are highly recommended.
Skin Protection For Resin Filler
Epoxy resin is not a corrosive acid that’s going to melt your skin like in a bad horror movie. It’s a reasonably stable and safe compound. At most, it will cause epoxy dermatitis (more on that later) or mild irritation. That being said, you really don’t want to be exposed to this stuff on a regular basis, so proper skin protection is required.
Required Protection: A hooded long sleeved coverall should be worn. In addition to this, you should use long sleeved gloves, and steel toe capped boots (not for the epoxy, but just in case you drop whatever you’re working on). If you can get your hands on some barrier cream, then try and use that on your face and other exposed areas too.
Just remember that barrier cream is not a substitute for gloves, and it should only be used on areas of the skin that cannot be covered up.
Eye Protection For Resin Filler
If there is one place that you REALLY don’t want to get epoxy resin, it’s in your eyes. We will leave it to your imagination to figure out what it would feel like to have some epoxy that is in the middle of curing flung into your eyes. Rest assured, it’s probably not going to be fun.
The end result can easily leave you blind, and it’s an accident that is easier to happen than you may think.
Required Protection: Standard safety goggles or glasses will suffice here, you don’t need anything extra special. But just make sure you always wear something to protect your eyes. If you only take one tip from this article, let it be this one.
Safely Using Epoxy Primer
Again, like epoxy resin, epoxy primer isn’t something you’re going to need to stress yourself about when it comes to safety. It’s about as safe as compounds in the marine and finishing industries get. But remember, just because it’s safe in comparison doesn’t mean it's safe in general.
Respiratory Protection For Epoxy Primer
We would find it hard to decide if we would rather inhale epoxy resin dust or airborne epoxy primer. It’s a tough call to make, both would suck.
While we make up our mind, we highly recommend that you don’t inhale either. When an epoxy primer is sprayed and is airborne it should be treated with the same respect as a 2 pack paint.
Required Protection: If you’re spraying (or near someone spraying) epoxy primer then you need full respiratory protection. This ideally will be a full faced air fed mask. If you don’t have that kind of equipment available, then a mask with adequate filtration capabilities will do. (This is only for some kinds of epoxy primer, some demand an air fed mask. Check with the manufacturer of the primer to see what you need).
Skin Protection For Epoxy Primer
Like epoxy resin, if you get some epoxy primer on your skin it’s not going to be the end of the world. You’ll get a mild irritation or epoxy dermatitis at worst. But again, it’s not something you want to be doing repeatedly over the long term, and protection is advised.
Required Protection: Epoxy primers require a similar level of protection to epoxy resins. Use cotton coveralls with a hood, long chemical resistant gloves, and suitable footwear.
Eye Protection For Epoxy Primer
If you’re spraying epoxy primer, then the stakes are raised compared to epoxy resin. When the primer becomes airborne it can (and will) go everywhere. Anyone close to the spraying area needs to have robust and adequate eye protection.
Required Protection: A durable full face mask with tear off strips is highly recommended. Safety glasses are considered to be acceptable as a bare minimum but are far from an ideal solution.
Safely Using Epoxy Glass Laminate
Epoxy glass laminate is another reasonably safe material in the grand scheme of things, but there are a few simple precautions that still need to be taken.
Respiratory Protection For Epoxy Glass Laminate
As the name suggests, epoxy glass laminate contains a bunch of glass fibres. The size of the fibres in this material are thought to be too big to be inhaled deep into the lungs. This means you don’t need to worry about asbestos style damage occurring.
However, just like epoxy resin, when sanded this stuff gets pretty nasty (and you really don’t want to be breathing it in).
Required Protection: A suitable half face respirator should be worn at all times when sanding epoxy glass laminate. Ensure that any equipment is capable of removing the small particulate from the air adequately.
Skin Protection For Epoxy Glass Laminate
Again nothing too nasty here in terms of long term damage, but the glass fibres in epoxy glass laminate can be an irritant and cause epoxy dermatitis. Make sure you cover up to avoid any discomfort.
Required Protection: Coveralls are recommended, but the most important skin protection when working with this stuff is gloves. The edges of sheets of epoxy glass laminate can be extremely sharp. Make sure you wear hand protection that is up to the job of taking the brunt of the damage should the worst happen.
Eye Protection For Epoxy Glass Laminate
In terms of eye protection, epoxy glass laminate is no different to any other composite material. It’s not going to blind you unless you’re unlucky – but you’re going to have a bad time if it does get into your eyes.
Required Protection: You don’t need anything too drastic here. A pair of good safety glasses or goggles will do the job just fine.
How To Prevent Epoxy Dermatitis?
You’ve heard us mention epoxy dermatitis a few times already throughout this article (when talking about skin protection). It’s not a particularly deadly or even dangerous condition, but it can get really annoying really quickly.
Epoxy dermatitis is caused by skin contact with many different forms of epoxy. It’s most common in professionals in the construction, composites, and marine industries due to repeated exposure. It’s very unusual for a long term chronic diagnosis to be made from a single exposure. So the weekend warrior working with epoxy once in a blue moon has little to worry about long term (but should still take precautions).
There are two kinds of epoxy dermatitis, the most common one is known as contact dermatitis. It’s basically a skin irritation and inflammation that can be reasonably painful in some cases. In the vast majority of instances, this pain goes away pretty quickly once the epoxy has been removed from the skin.
If repeated exposure to epoxy is encountered, then the more serious form of the condition known as chronic dermatitis can be contracted. The symptoms of this condition are reasonably similar to contact dermatitis except that they last for long after the epoxy has been removed (but are slightly milder).
The only way to protect yourself against getting epoxy dermatitis is to avoid contact with epoxy at all costs. This is the main reason why the documents we referenced above are talking about full coveralls, hoods, gloves, and barrier creams for something that seems reasonably harmless at first glance.
You may think it’s a little bit overkill, but chronic epoxy dermatitis is a very annoying condition to live with. Sometimes it will go away after a year or so, but other times you can be left with the sensitivity for life.
So there you have it, a basic overview of the kinds of precautions you should be taking when working with various kinds of epoxy. As we have stated throughout this article, epoxies are generally a safe material to work with compared to some of the other stuff we are exposed to.
But epoxy should be treated with respect just like any other compound you find yourself using. Take the proper precautions and you will save yourself from a whole host of potential discomfort down the line.