How to Become an Industrial Blaster Painter – A Potential Career Move?
by Daniel Green
There’s something deeply satisfying about bombing away at something with a Gerni or sand blaster and returning it to its raw state. Add fresh paint at the end and you’ll begin to understand why coatings guys have such a sense of achievement after a long day all up tha booth.
Don’t assume working in this highly technical industry is as easy as firing up the Karcher and getting busy with a few rattle cans though. Industrial blast and paint is a uniquely challenging field that calls for a thorough understanding of surfaces, blasting material, pressure, coating thicknesses and much more. Often working in heavy industry such as oil and gas, a great industrial blaster painter is one seriously educated individual.
Back to Base
B/P guys work mostly with corroded or damaged metal. Their chief aim is to return it to raw substrate so it can be assessed for damage, have it repaired/replaced and then apply specialised coatings to prevent it all from happening again.
The process involves high pressure air, a blasting wand, grit, some kind of encapsulation and some serious PPE. 140psi may not sound like a lot of air pressure but when its feeding lead shot at 100 cubic feet per minute it will certainly keep you on your toes.
That’s the Spirit!
Given the reason for blasting in the first place is exposure to the elements, it makes sense that out in the elements is where most blast and paint occurs. Adventurous spirit required! Some examples of this are bridges, plants, energy installations, shipyards, oil rigs and so on. Think about this: either the item is brought into the blasting booth or the blasting is brought to the item. If it’s the latter, you may find yourself dangling fifty metres in the air bombing crusty steel with lead shot!
Heavy Duty Harmony
The duty required by industrial coatings far exceeds that of automotive or household coatings. As a result there are scores of primers, mid-coats and final coat materials that need to work together harmoniously to achieve such long term hardiness.
Think about some of the material these coatings could be working against:
- industrial acids such as fluoroantimonic acid [a superacid that is a quadrillion times stronger than 100% pure sulfuric acid]
- petroleum like Avgas [which contains tetraethyllead]
- subzero temperature liquids such as liquid nitrogen
- colourless gases like anhydrous ammonia which is toxic, corrosive and flammable
Mixing different brands and types of coatings materials often results in their failure. This means completing the blasting process all over again. Believe it or not there’s an entire science behind the successful application of coatings.
One aspect overlooked by laypeople like us is the appropriate thickness of coatings. The thickness of the coating demanded by the spec is crucial to passing sign off. Most protective coatings over steel for example are applied in a thickness range from zero to 1000 microns. Having said that, most coatings, both paint and galvanising, would commonly be in the 10-300 micron range. This is measured by a digital micrometer. The accuracy of these gauges is in the order of ± 3% although some high performance instruments are rated at ± 1%. It just depends on the spec.
Often veiled in PPE more akin to NASA than a construction site, blaster painters spend most of their day in tight quarters. If claustrophobia ain’t your thang then perhaps this isn’t for you. Additionally, if you’re a social butterfly perhaps the loner life of the blast and paint professional might be best left for someone else.
For many years there was no blast and paint qualification. However, since the 1990’s the Certificate III in Surface Preparation has been developed and delivered. Although its not mandatory, more and more businesses are looking favourably on workers who hold this qualification. This is because it helps formalise their skillset. Another qualification that can lead into a blast and paint career is spray painting. Automotive painters looking for a career change can make good candidates for industrial blaster painters. There will still be skills gaps in the form of the blasting component. Although some panel repair shops will do light blasting of small parts, this varies greatly from industrial blasting.
Depending on the project and your employer, you may need more quals. Or maybe you just love living on the edge! Some of these could be: Confined Space, Working at Heights, IRATA/SPRAT rope access qualifications and Dogging or Rigging. Generally speaking, the more qualifications and experience you have, the more employable you are. This often means you can ask for a greater pay rate. Let’s say you you’re an L2 IRATA Rope Access holder, an experienced Intermediate Rigger, have expertise in Working at Heights and you can drive a 4WD truck. You could potentially head out to blast a satellite dish atop an aerial structure located on top of a mountain. So instead needing to pay five wages your employer could need to pay perhaps two.
A Day in the Life Of
All of this is well and good but what’s it really like in the day of an industrial blaster painter? Well that depends on the job. Let’s outline a couple of scenarios.
The Workshop Blaster Painter
- Start Time – 0600 – 0800
- Work Location – Specially made blasting booth in the workshop
- Contract Length – 1 month to several years as you would be employed full time
- Routine – Blast, prime and coat smaller parts
The Site Blaster Painter
- Start Time – Anytime as operations could be 24/7
- Work Location – Anywhere worldwide
- Contract Length – Anything from 1 month to several years depending on the scope of works
- Routine – Blast, prime and coat anything from entire ships to whole wind turbine farms to entire bridges
A Rite of Passage
The actual pathway to a career as a professional industrial blaster painter varies. Patience will be a key factor as actually getting in the booth with the wand in your hand might take a year or two. Your best bet would be to gain employment with a remedial company like Perfect Remediation, Duratec or Thales. These businesses specialise in the refurbishment of steel, which in almost all cases requires blast and paint. Another route is to find a business willing to put you through your B/P apprenticeship. Another method would be to complete a spray painting trade and then cross over. Just remember that this last pathway requires four years of trade school before you even transition.
With any luck you’re a little more schooled on what it’s really like to be an industrial blaster painter as well as the pathways to do so.
More information find here: www.safework.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/52145/Abrasive-blasting-COP.pdf