Welcome to our three-part series on keeping safe while working with carbon fiber and composites, specifically the chemicals used in the various processes. In our first installment we’ll be looking at potential safety hazards during plycut & layups and how to steer clear of them.
Plycut and Layup hazards mainly occur from cutting fabrics or during resin application processes. Keeping a clean working environment adds to any safety regime for fabrication of composites. Remove any unneeded tools or clutter before fabric is ever pulled from the bag. During fabric plycut it is important to keep a careful watch of hands and eyes. Whether using scissors, a razor blade, or ply cutting machine, there is always a chance of injury and proper care must be taken. For plycut, cut resistant gloves are recommended for processes in which an open blade will be used for cutting fabric or prepreg. Finding a type that fits snuggly but allows for flexibility will aid in a comfortable & safe process. Special attention to proper eye care during plycut and layup is of utmost importance. One can overcome a slight cut very easily, but eyes are sensitive and do not heal quickly. Eye safety in composite fabrication is relatively easy. Always wear eye protection. Avoid rubbing any chemicals in or around eyes or skin.
During layup, Epoxy resins have been known to cause skin irritation or rashes in instances. Sensitization affects skin differently with everyone. Some never notice any irritation while others have broken out in an allergic reaction to resins. For this, disposable sleeves and nitrile gloves are made for layup purposes for skin protection. Gloves also keep FOD and other chemicals from encountering the layup process. Some epoxy hardeners are labeled as corrosive, always reference the product’s SDS before starting any project. Disposable body suites are available for any job large or small, if needed.
Polyester resins do not carry a significant health threat in layup processes. Polyurethane resins, though not as commonly used, do pose a raspatory threat if sensitive. Proper use of a half faced raspatory mask should mitigate any posing issues. Layup safety concerns can also be created with use of MEKP. (Methyl Ethyl Ketone Peroxide). While it is not a flammable liquid, it will still burn. It is an organic peroxide, and if ignited it is difficult to extinguish. Proper storage practices are to keep MEKP in a cool area, away from flammable liquids.
If working with heavier tools not anchored to the ground, movement or dropping of tools is a possible occurrence. Dependent on the situation, steel toed shoes should be worn when heavier tooling or motion of heavier layup objects are moving to keep feet from being crushed or broken. Lifts may also be used to aid in moving heavier tools and mitigate other ergonomic issues.