We recently received a query from a client who carry out paint spraying of isocyanate based two pack paints in a large walk-in type spray booth. They wanted us to carry out sampling to help them to decide when it was safe to enter the booth without their workers wearing their air fed masks. This sounds like a good idea. In fact it’s essential for workers to know when the paint spray has been completely cleared from the booth. Isocyanates are very potent respiratory sensitisers causing asthma in susceptible individuals. Anyone sensitised to isocyanates will experience asthmatic symptoms even if they are only exposed to very low concentrations. However, air sampling isn’t the best way to determine the “clearance time”.
If it was possible to use a direct reading instrument that gives a reading of the instantaneous concentration it would be relatively easy to determine when the booth was cleared. Unfortunately there isn’t a direct reading instrument that can be used for isocyanates. Sampling has to be carried out using an integrating technique – that means that a sample is collected over a period of time, and, after it has been analysed in a laboratory, it is then possible to determine the average concentration present during the sampling period. To determine the “clearance time” a series of samples would have to be taken one after another. This would be expensive (the analysis isn’t cheap) and the standard method for isocyanates is not particularly good. The samples are collected by bubbling air through a reagent dissolved in toluene and as a low detection limit would be required it’s difficult to take samples over a short period.
Consequently its better to use a different approach, releasing smoke into the enclosure and then timing how long it takes for it to be completely removed from the booth. This method is quicker, less messy and much less expensive. The test can also be used to check that there are no leaks from the booth – any smoke escaping should be clearly visible. The Health and Safety Executive explain how to carry out this test in their publication “Controlling isocyanate exposure in spray booths and spray rooms” which can be downloaded from their website here.
The following videos show a smoke test taking place in a typical booth.
Once the clearance time has been established it’s important to ensure that anyone who works in the booth is informed and a notice posted at the entrance to the booth, something like this:
The HSE would like to see automatic clearance time indicator fitted on walk-in spray booths, but in my experience few have them. This is something that should really be addressed by the manufacturers and suppliers of the equipment. A new booth should already have them fitted, and clearance times should be established during the commissioning of the equipment after it’s been installed.
Following on from the initial test checking the clearance time should also form part of the statutory thorough examination and test required for LEV systems under COSHH Regulation 9. All engineering controls deteriorate over time, so the time taken for the contaminants to clear is likely to increase, even with a well maintained booth.