Industrial Floor Coatings – Are They Safe For Workers?

It’s important for factories and other manufacturing related facilities to provide for industrial floor coatings. Floor coatings provide surface stability, environmental cleanliness as well as aesthetics. Safety is also an important factor in the need to have industrial floor coatings. Companies that provide for industrial floor coatings reduce the risk of accidents due to excess or lack of traction however after several decades, the environmental safety of using these coatings are now in question.

Industrial floor coatings provide a stable, non-broken surface (given the substrate is also hole or crack- free) for staff and products to move on. The coating also serves to protect the substrate from the wear and tear of wheel and foot traffic. Also, the smoother the surface, the faster people and products move. Coatings also provide a sense of order and cleanliness. Brighter coatings also add to the ambient lighting of the workplace. Safety comes into play because industrial floor coatings made from polyurethane or like materials provide sufficient traction to avoid accidents as against ordinary rough concrete/soil floors or overly smooth concrete/tiled flooring. Aside from commercial uses, industrial coatings are also best for gymnasiums and facilities for indoor sports.

However, the use of conventional polyurethane coatings is not without its own hazards. The material, polyurethane, that we’ve used for decades for industrial floor coatings is not safe in itself. The manufacture of polyurethane, a prime ingredient for industrial coatings involves the use of toxic chemicals known as isocyanates. Normally and preferably, isocyanates lose their toxicity after bonding with the other chemicals that form the polyurethane. They become inert. However, recent studies have shown that not all of the applied isocyanates completely bond with the other ingredients leaving behind what is known as post-reactive isocyanates. These post-reactive isocyanates are present in the fumes the coating generates during application on floors and other surfaces of a building.

Application personnel that lack sufficient protective equipment become susceptible to these fumes. Employees are exposed to these chemicals in minute amounts during their day-to-day interactions with the workplace and the facility’s products can become tainted as well. These chemicals also leech into the environment when the coating is disposed for replacement. The effects of isocyanates of the human body include asthma, vomiting, as well as chest and throat irritation. Exposure to large amounts is fatal.

Such dangers then contradict the premise of safety on the use of polyurethane coatings. The risk was not known until recently but floor coatings have remained essential in the industry. Fortunately, new advances in technology has given rise to the manufacture of a non-toxic polyurethane alternative known as green polyurethane. Non-toxic or green polyurethane does not make use of chemically-bonded isocyanates but instead binds its ingredients at the ‘nano’ or atomic level. The ingredients lock together or intertwine to form an impermeable substance with the same properties as polyurethane.

Modern manufacturing techniques, also ensure that excess toxic chemicals are filtered out from the finished product. Thus choosing green polyurethane over conventional polyurethane renders the premise of safety of using industrial floor coatings complete. As green polyurethane continues to grow in popularity, floor coatings as well as other materials that use polyurethane become safer and the industries that use them can breathe safely.