More people than ever before are working with carbon fibre, most of which are using the required protective clothing and equipment. However, there is still a large chunk of the workforce that are putting themselves at risk by not taking adequate measures to protect against the hazards of the material.
In this article we will discuss what kind of precautions you should be taking when working with the material. Let’s get started.
Let’s first talk about the kind of extraction and filtration systems you should have in place when working with carbon fibre. It’s preferable to utilise all of the systems we are going to discuss if possible, but anything is better than nothing.
On Tool Extraction
If you’re only going to provide one kind of extraction method for your workforce, it should be on tool extraction. It’s one of the most effective and efficient methods of removing dust and can dramatically reduce risk to operators. We consider it to be an essential safety feature for any operator that is working with carbon fibre.
What makes on tool extraction so good is that the extraction happens extremely close to where the dust is being created. This means that the vast majority of it is removed and out of harm’s way before it becomes airborne and enters the atmosphere of your workshop. It’s clean, it’s efficient, and it’s reasonably inexpensive.
ATEX Compliant Filters
Once you’ve extracted the carbon fibre your next job is to filter the particulate out. When working with certain kinds of carbon fibre the resins used can be flammable and explosive. Because of this, you shouldn’t just use any old filter that is capable of removing enough particulate – you need to ideally ensure they are ATEX compliant.
ATEX compliant filters are designed specifically for handling a potentially explosive situation as they greatly minimise the risk of ignition from static electricity. They are not much more expensive than traditional filtration systems, and they could save your workforce and your business from a catastrophic event.
Centralised solutions are the bread and butter extraction system for many workshops. Their cost-effective nature combined with their incredible extraction potential keeps workshops clean, and workers safe.
There is nothing particularly special about carbon fibre dust that makes a centralised solution an effective option for extraction. But as centralised systems a great part of the solution for almost any kind of dust extraction, this makes them suitable for carbon fibre particulate too.
Downdraft benches are another highly popular extraction method that benefits from collecting the particulate close to the source, but they’re not always as efficient at this as on tool extraction.
In an ideal world, you would have an on tool extraction system combined with a downdraft bench for an incredible level of extraction – but we realise this may not be possible in all situations. We always recommend on tool extraction over a downdraft bench when working with carbon fibre – but we also recommend you consider utilising both extraction methods too.
If you utilise all (or most) of the extraction systems above you should be able to remove a huge amount of the particulate created by working with carbon fibre before it becomes into contact with operators. However, even a small amount of carbon fibre dust can become an issue, so appropriate clothing must be worn.
All of the things we are mentioning today are important protective measures, but proper respiratory protection should be at very top of your list. Inhaling carbon fibre dust could potentially cause issues similar to asbestos.
New resins are being introduced to the curing processes without a great deal of research regarding health and safety. If nothing else, we highly recommend you wear appropriate respiratory protection.
In workshops that have pretty good extraction systems already then a basic dust mask is often considered to be adequate protection. However, if extraction is limited then the amount of particulate in the atmosphere may make standard masks unsuitable. In these situations, air fed masks should be considered essential.
Carbon fibre is not just a respiratory hazard, as you probably already know it can become extremely sharp when cut and like with any composite material, the resins can irritate the skin. As such you should utilise heavy duty gloves when working with the material. Skin barrier creams can be used to limit exposure to areas of the body that are uncovered – but they should never be used as a substitute for gloves.
Last but by no means least is eye protection. Like with many materials, you want to avoid getting carbon fibre particulate in your eyes at all costs. It’s not a particularly tricky thing to protect against and a standard pair of protective glasses will suffice – but fully enclosed protection is even better.
So there you have it, a little bit of an introduction into the kind of safety precautions you should be taking when dealing with carbon fibre.
Need more information?
Call our knowledgeable and friendly sales team for a quick no pressure chat to find out more about what kind of protection is right for your organization.