Workplace Safety for Composite Sandwich Panel Construction
This article helps describe workplace safety measures that should be considered during construction of composite sandwich panels and products. Although this article will provide some insight into composite workplace safety, one must follow all manufacturer recommendations and OSHA requirements to be truly safe. Most importantly, always use eye protection, ear protection, and respiratory safety equipment.
Workplace Safety with Resin
If you are building the composite sandwich panel from scratch, you may be using chemicals and resins. Chemicals such as polyester resin, gel coats, acetone, styrene wax and PVA all have a flashpoint lower than 100° F. This means that these compounds can ignite with an ignition source at temperatures lower than 100° F.
Thus, it is important to properly store these products in cool areas away from possible ignition sources. It is also important to have good ventilation when using flammable chemicals, and to never be near possible ignition sources.
MEKP (METHYL ETHYL KETONE PEROXIDE) Workplace Safety
MEKP, one of the most common composite resin catalysts, does not have a flash point below 100° F, although it is extremely flammable. MEKP, an organic peroxide, creates its own oxygen when burning. Thus increasing need for safety when used. Take extra care when mixing MEKP, avoid any sort of flammable sources, and store it with the proper caution.
Personal Care When Working with Resins
Many resins used in fiberglass and composite work create volatile organic compounds (VOCs) . VOCs are a proven carcinogen, and should be avoided. Always use approved respiratory equipment when working with resins. Always use safety goggles as well; resin can be harmful if splashed into the eye. Prolonged exposure to certain resins will cause skin irritation.
Check alternative types of available resins that can be used… For example, certain epoxy resins have no harmful fumes.
Follow Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
All chemical suppliers and manufactures are required to provide MSDS sheets for their products. Before working with any material, carefully read the MSDS and follow all precautions.
Cutting a Sandwich Panel
Once you have constructed your sandwich panel, there is a good chance you will need to cut your panel to the proper size or shape. A standard composite sandwich panel, consisting of structurally reinforced skins and a core, requires special care when working with it. Most foams (EPS, PVC, Polyurethane, etc) and reinforcing fibers (glass, carbon, aramid, etc) create dust when cut. This dust is an irritant and should not be inhaled.
Often dust can be kept to a minimum by using water when cutting; a wet-tile saw works ideally. Remember, if your saw is not meant to be used with liquid, don’t, as you may end up electrocuting yourself.
Regardless if you are reducing dust with liquid, respiratory safety equipment must be used. Often dust masks work well enough, however, for ultimate safety it is recommended that approved safety respirators be used.
The other issue with dust, especially fiberglass, is that it will irritate the skin. For some it is worse than others, but small fiberglass dust particles can lodge into the skin can cause itching or a rash. The best prevention is to wear gloves and long sleeves when working with fiberglass.
Standard cutting safety precautions should be followed anytime when using power tools and saws. Be careful of cutting fingers, etc.
Most importantly, always practice and preach SAFETY FIRST
Thermoplastic vs Thermoset Resin
Composite Sandwich Panel Glossary
ACMA OSHA Fire safety
OSHA: Composites Safety and Health
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