Solution Summary: Drywall Pole Sander
Sanding drywall joint compound creates fine dust that can be inhaled. This dust consists primarily of calcite, but can also include other materials such as gypsum, talc, mica, perlite, kaolin, and crystalline silica. Nearly all samples of drywall total dust exposures (8 of 9) exceeded the OSHA standard of (15 mg/m3) and many (2 of 13) exceeded the respirable (5 mg/m3) dust exposure limits . Total dust exposure over a work lifetime is associated with respiratory irritation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. Respirable crystalline silica (Quartz) is present in most (17 of 22) samples but levels are highly variable. Silica exposure is associated with lung scarring (silicosis) and increased risk of cancer.
How Risks are Reduced:
Using an extension pole moves the source of the dust futher from the workers breathing zone compared to using a traditional sanding block. Using a pole sander does not decrease the amount of dust generated, rather it can decrease the amount of dust inhaled. On vertical surfaces (walls), dust exposures have been found to be reduced up to 60%, compared to a hand sanding block. This is similar to the reductioin observed with a wet sponge hand sander; and both controls are less effective than a vacuum sanding systems which provided 80% to 97% reductions.
(Photo courtesy of All-Wall Equipment Company Inc.)
For overhead work (ceilings) where dust exposure is presumably the highest, it is unclear whether any reduction in exposure is achieved with a pole sander.
Since reduction only depends on increasing the physical separation between the source and the workers breathing zone, some reduction is certain. The reduction may not be adequate to avoid the need to use personal protective equipment like an N95 respirator.
Effects on Productivity:
By extending the reach and reducing the need to use a step ladder or baker scaffold, it is expected to increase productivity and maintain the same quality assosicated with a traditional hand sanding block.
Finishing drywall may involve use of stepladders, baker scaffold or stilts to provide easier access to ceilings and wall areas out of the workers reach. All of these can create significant fall hazards.
Sanding ceilings often puts the worker in unnatural positions. If the ceiling is over 8', workers often use a "baker" scaffold. To stay clear of falling dust, sanding is performed as far away from the body as possible. While this may eliminate or reduce exposure, the strain on the arms and back increases. To reduce ergonomic stress, the pole sander should be used in a way that the workers' hands stay between his or her hips and shoulders.