Powder Actuated Tool

I titled this post, “hazards of drywall”, but it encompassing most of the common hazards of plaster, mud, gypsum, wall-hangers, tapers, and acoustic employees.

  1. Corrosive drywall.

    I have not dealt with this subject on a personal level. However, AIHA has a new guidance document titled, “Assessment and Remediation of Corrosive Drywall: An AIHA Guidance Document“, which is a clarification of an earlier white paper document from 2000, titled, “Corrosive Drywall“. The danger is from a specific type of drywall which was imported from China. After installation it is known to emit sulfide vapors, which corrode copper (electrical wires), and can give off a sulfur smell (HT to JeffH in Ohio).

  2. Asbestos in mud/plaster.

    Be aware, some older buildings (pre 1980s) may have asbestos in the mud compound or plaster (not as common). This will be a concern if you are performing demo on these walls. Info here.

  3. Silica (dust) in joint (mud) compound.

    Some types of silica I have found to have silica. This can be an issue when sanding. AND, if you install drywall like me…you do a lot of sanding. More information from an earlier post can be found here. NIOSH has some suggestions too.

  4. Leaded sheetrock. If you are installing (or demo) leaded sheetrock, you NEED to protect yourself. Airborne levels of lead can approach the exposure limits, even during installation. More info here.
  5. Lead in paint. If you’re tying into existing plaster/drywall and there’s paint, you need to know if there’s lead in it. Sanding on the paint is a good way to be exposed. More info here.
  6. Ergonomics. Hanging the wallboard takes a toll on your body after 20 years (or less). Not to mention sanding. Washington OSHA (L&I) has a good demo.
  7. Noise. Cutting steel studs, powder actuated tools (there’s lead exposure too, you know).
  8. Skin hazards. Cutting, but also dermatitis from prolonged exposure to dust.
  9. Eye hazards. Dust, carpentry, etc. Working overhead is an easy way to get falling items in your eyes.
  10. Falls. Last on my list, but certainly not the least. Scaffolding, working from ladders, and using stilts, to name a few.

I’ve mentioned this before.

If you’re using these tools in construction please be careful.

Quick summary:

  • the powder contains lead (Pb)
  • you can be exposed to lead when it is airborne, AND if it gets on your hands & you eat it.
  • lead is not healthy for kids
  • Wash!

For employees (carpenter, laborer, iron worker, plumber, electrician) using powder actuated tools, please take caution! There are possible airborne lead exposures during powder actuated tool use.

The best safety practice is to eliminate the hazard. In this case there are two easy alternatives;

  1. using lead-free loads, or
  2. using a pneumatic type nailer (like this one made by Pneutek, Hilti makes a CO2 type as well)

However, if you are an employee, I realize there are times that you are not given a choice. If this is the case, please consider:

    • asking for the MSDS for the primer loads (look for lead styphnate, or similar)
    • lead exposure can occur by inhalation and by ingestion (wash!)
    • wash & be diligent around eating & what you “take home” to your family
    • lead exposure to children is serious (they absorb lead better & it causes more detrimental health effects)
    • respirators might be required when using these tools (so wear one!)
    • working overhead (nailing into ceiling) might have higher airborne levels than other positions
    • bringing up these concerns with your safety professional onsite
    • performing air monitoring to determine airborne levels (although for the price of an industrial hygiene consultant, you could own a CO2 actuated tool)
    • reading more about it from my earlier post here.

As a guy, I must admit… these tools are really cool. They’re loud, look like a space-age pistol, and have loaded bullets.  They use a .22 or .27 round casing  to drive the nail through the wood (or steel) stud (or bracket) and into the concrete.  It is really fast and …essentially a gun.

Powder actuated tools (sometimes confused with power, but it’s not) are typically used as  a quick method to anchor into concrete. There are a few types of these tools (Hilti, Simpson, Ramset) and there are specific safety precautions and controls that must be in place during use. However, I will focus on the newer hazard that was brought to my attention:  airborne lead exposure during their use.

I have seen these in use for many years, and at one point it was brought to my attention that lead was listed in the MSDS in section 2 Hazardous Ingredients (lead styphnate) and some of the manufactures caution the extended use of the tool. I actually dismissed the concern for airborne releases.   Well, I was corrected.

A study done by Liberty Mutual’s Mark Wiggins, CIH, CSP, ARM found that when as few as 50 to 90 loads are used per shift, the OSHA Action Limit can be exceeded.  It depends upon the type of load, where work is being done (location), and the type of work (overhead, etc).  He also suggests that the airborne exposure can be estimated based upon the number of rounds.

There are many alternatives to minimizing this exposure including: using battery-operated, or pneumatic anchoring tools, loads without lead, decreasing the frequency of use, and finally- respirators. A half-face, tight fitting negative pressure respirator is suggested to be adequate.

Leave me a comment if you would like the more information about this study.