Foamed Plastics

Safety Bulletin


The following recommendations are intended to give general guidance on the safe handling, use, storage and disposal of foam(ed) plastics when used to construct stage sets and props. Foam(ed) plastics are products made of petroleum distillates which can ignite when used in connection with heat from a hot wire or welding/cutting operation (hot work), or when used in close proximity to a fire effect or special effect/pyrotechnic device. Accordingly, it is recommended that only approved fire resistant foam(ed) plastics be used. Prior to purchasing any foam(ed) plastics, check with the local fire Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) in which the production is taking place, or appropriate studio or production safety representatives for guidance.

Types of Foamed Plastics

The following types of foam are most commonly used in set and prop construction:

  • Sprayable polyurethane foam
  • HSF 110 Pour Foam, Class 1
  • Two-part rigid foam (AB foam)
  • Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) or polyurethane or polystyrene foam blocks

Note: Caution must be taken at all times when working with or near foam(ed) plastics. The foams listed above are available in different classes, fire resistant and non-fire resistant. Under the right conditions even fire resistant foams will burn.

  • Foam(ed) plastics must meet the requirements and guidelines of all applicable federal, state, and local laws, rules, regulations, and approved standards. In California, all foam(ed) plastics must meet the requirements of the California Fire Code, Article 40. In many other jurisdictions, foam(ed) plastics material used for decorative purposes, scenery, sets, or props, must comply with the requirements of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Article 140.
  • When ordering foam(ed) plastics, request that your supplier include both “Manufacturer’s Technical Data Sheet(s)”, if available, and “Material Safety Data Sheets(s)” (MSDS) with each order. Foam(ed) plastics should not be allowed in any work area without these documents.

Potential Health Hazards from Working with or Around Foam(Ed) Plastics

When foam products burn they will generate dense clouds of black smoke and a variety of toxic gases, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and traces of hydrogen cyanide. All precautions must be taken to avoid ignition of foam(ed) plastics to prevent inhalation of potentially hazardous smoke and other injuries, such as burns.

If inhalation of potentially hazardous smoke occurs, immediately seek medical attention.

The primary hazards in working with or around foam(ed) plastics are adverse health effects from direct exposure to foam(ed) plastics and injuries caused from ignition of foam(ed) plastics. Although foam(ed) plastics can be used safely, they must be handled in accordance with the procedures designed to minimize exposure and ignition.

Exposure to Foam(Ed) Plastics

Typically, there are three primary routes of possible exposure to foam(ed) plastics and the vapors released from such products: inhalation, skin contact, and eye contact.

Foam(ed) products may contain chemicals known to produce chemical sensitivities. Individuals who know they have, or are prone to, chemical sensitivities must avoid any and all exposure to these products.


Airborne vapors, aerosol mists, and particulates are irritating to the respiratory tract. Symptoms of overexposure may include tightness of the chest and difficult or labored breathing. Headache, nausea, or vomiting may also occur. Exposure to higher concentrations may result in chemical bronchitis, pneumonitis, and pulmonary edema. Some individuals may become sensitized and experience severe asthma-like attacks whenever they are subsequently exposed to even minute amounts of vapor. Once sensitized, these individuals must avoid any further exposure.

Skin Contact

Although a single prolonged exposure is not likely to result in the foam material being absorbed through the skin in acutely toxic amounts, skin contact may discolor the skin and cause irritation. Skin contact may produce contact dermatitis and skin sensitization. Therefore, contact with the skin should be avoided.

Eye Contact

Direct or indirect contact with foam material may cause eye irritation, temporary blurred vision or corneal damage. Be aware that ordinary safety goggles or face masks will not prevent eye irritation from high concentrations of vapor.

General Precautions While Cutting, Carving, Sculpting, Gluing and/or Spraying

  1. Skin and eye protection should be used during all normal working operations. Personal protective equipment includes, but is not limited to, safety glasses, chemical worker’s goggles, chemical gloves, face shield, long-sleeve coveralls, safety shoes, or boots.
  2. Mechanical ventilation adequate enough to draw vapors, aerosol mists, or smoke away from an operator’s breathing zone should be provided at all work stations.
  3. When adequate local exhaust ventilation is not feasible, proper personal respiratory equipment must be used.
  4. Monitoring for airborne contaminants may be necessary.

General Precautions for Worksite, Storage and Disposal

  1. Due to potential fire hazard, consideration should be given during the design and pre-production of the set to ensure appropriate egress for cast and crew.
  2. During construction the Construction Coordinator, or other designated person, shall identify the location of exits and maintain escape routes. All escape routes must be clear and unobstructed. The First Assistant Director, or his or her designee, is responsible to ensure that cast and crew members are made aware of the designated escape routes.
  3. Foam(ed) plastics are combustible. Care should be taken to avoid contact with sources of ignition before, during, and after installation of all foam(ed) plastics. Smoking while working with or around foam(ed) plastics is strictly prohibited.
  4. Foam(ed) products and associated adhesives must be dry and cured prior to sculpting and/or shaping.
  5. When setting up welding/cutting operations, do not locate them in close proximity to foam(ed) plastics operations (see Hot Work on Foam(ed) Plastics).
  6. Working with foam(ed) plastics produces combustible dust. Keep the work area clean.
  7. Fire suppression devices and materials should be readily available when working with foam(ed) plastics. Only qualified individuals may use these devices.
  8. Do not expose foam(ed) plastics to reactive chemicals (such as solvents, petroleum products, etc.). Consult the product MSDS and Manufacturer’s Technical Data Sheet for further information.
  9. Since uncured AB foam can generate heat and cause fires, use care in disposal.

Application Of Two Part (AB) Foam

In addition to the “General Precautions”, the following safety guidelines should be used when working with two part (AB) foam:

  1. Only qualified personnel should spray AB foam.
  2. Application of AB foam should be scheduled when other cast and crew members are not on the stage or set.
  3. When using AB foam, either hand mixed or with froth packs, workers should refer to the MSDS and wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
  4. Be aware the application process of AB foam generates heat and may increase the likelihood of fire.
  5. Minimize spaces between foam blocks that will be filled with AB foam. Large spaces that have been filled with AB foam have a greater likelihood of igniting when using the “hot wire” technique.
  6. Allow all joints time to dry and cure before cutting or shaping. A non-cured joint is a fire hazard.
  7. All equipment used in spraying foam should be kept clean, properly calibrated, and in good working order. Special attention should be paid to nozzles, pick-ups, and tubing.
  8. The drums and/or containers of AB foam components require bonding and/or grounding to prevent the build up of static electricity.
  9. Precaution should be taken to avoid spills when storing and using AB foam. When storing 55-gallon drums of AB foam use appropriate secondary containment. Consult the Studio Safety Representative, local Fire Authority or local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) when storing large amounts (55 gallon drums) of AB foam.

Sculpting Foam

In addition to the “General Precautions”, the following safety guidelines should be used when sculpting foam:

  1. Sculpting foam(ed) plastics may involve many different types of tools. Care must be taken when using sharp tools or those with moving parts to avoid injury. Be aware of others working in close proximity.
  2. Abrading, sawing, cutting, sanding, or other methods of sculpting foam(ed) plastics will cause dust and debris to form, which increases the potential for flammability.
  3. Wear appropriate PPE when necessary. Keep the work area clean by regular sweeping and disposal of dust and debris.

Hot Work on Foam(ed) Plastics

In addition to the “General Precautions”, the following safety guidelines should be used when performing hot work on foam(ed) plastics:

  1. Only qualified personnel should use hot wire devices.
  2. Hot work, which includes hot wire sculpting and welding/cutting, may require a fire department permit.
  3. Hot wire sculpting uses various types of electrical and heated devices. AB foam must be fully cured before sculpting with a hot wire.
  4. Exposed hot wire devices are heated to high temperatures. The hot wire heated elements must not be left connected and unattended.
  5. All equipment used in a hot wire operation must be inspected and kept in good working order at all times.
  6. Any handheld hot wire device should be able to be disconnected from the electrical supply at the device.
  7. The hot wire should be adjusted such that the wire is not visibly red.
  8. Hot work must not be performed within ten (10) feet of any flammable and/or combustible materials, unless approved by the AHJ.
  9. A fire watch should be provided during a hot work operation. Individuals assigned to fire watch duty must have fire-extinguishing equipment readily available and must be trained in the use of such equipment. If possible and safe to do so, individuals assigned to fire watch duty should extinguish spot fires and communicate an alarm in the event of a fire.
  10. Fire watch assignments should continue for a minimum of thirty (30) minutes after the interruption or conclusion of hot work operations.

Related Bulletins

Edged, Piercing and Projectile Props

Safety Bulletin


These guidelines are intended to provide recommendations on the safe handling, use and storage of edged, piercing, and projectile props (hereinafter referred to as Props). These Props include, but are not limited to: knives, swords, razors, darts, bows and arrows, hatchets, saws, spears, martial arts throwing stars, cross bows and other objects launched mechanically, or by hand, including paintballs and pellets.

Responsible Person

A “Responsible Person” is someone who through experience or training is able to recognize and resolve problems relating to the safe operation and handling of Props.

Depending on the type and use of Props required for the production, and after consultation with one or more of the following personnel: Property Master, Stunt Coordinator, Special Effects Coordinator, Producer, First Assistant Director, Production Safety Representative, and/or any other necessary parties, a Responsible Person (or Persons) shall be assigned to oversee the safe use and operation of Props.


The Responsible Person will have the authority over the following operations, including, but not limited to:

  • Designating individuals under the Responsible Person’s supervision to assist as necessary;
  • Removing a malfunctioning Prop from service;
  • Determining whether an actor, or other, has experience in the safe handling of the Prop;
  • Ensuring performers are educated or comfortable in the functionality or operation and potential hazards associated with the Prop; and
  • Exercising the authority to abort the use of a Prop.


The Responsible Person or designated individual should do the following:

  1. Ensure proper storage, possession, control and distribution of all Props on the set, whether company owned, rented, or privately owned. Be qualified to work with the types of Props being used, and be knowledgeable in their handling, use and safekeeping. If unfamiliar with a Prop, expert advice should be sought.
  2. Use simulated or dummy Props whenever possible.
  3. Adhere to all manufacturers and Authority Having Jurisdiction requirements regarding transportation, storage and use of Props.
  4. Ensure performers are instructed in the functionality operation, and potential hazards associated with the Prop.
  5. Inspect each Prop before and after each use, as necessary.
  6. Retain possession of all props except during actual filming or rehearsal. Account for each prop before personnel are allowed to leave the area. The production company should allow time in its schedule for this procedure.
  7. Clean, check and inventory each Prop before the close of each day’s shooting.

Prior to Rehearsal and Filming

  • Maintain all safety devices and guards (such as sheathes) in place, until the Prop is about to be used
  • Inspect the area in which the action is to be rehearsed or filmed, with special attention to the surfaces on which the performers will be standing, to identify and mitigate potential hazards
  • Prior to rehearsing the action, inform the cast and crew of the safety precautions to be observed, including their positions during rehearsing and filming.

Safety Meeting

The First Assistant Director should, along with the Responsible Person and other necessary personnel, conduct a safety meeting with cast and crew prior to working around Props.

Make cast and crew aware of the Responsible Person (or designee) authorized to handle the Props.

Safety meeting topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Communicating to all involved personnel, including performers, the intended action, need for increased awareness, possible changes, any visual or audio signals to be used;
  • After each use, no one shall approach or enter the area in which edged, piercing or projectile Props are in use other than the Responsible Person(s), until it is declared safe. This includes testing, rehearsals and filming.
  • Identify cast, including Background Performers, that are authorized to use a Prop.

The Responsible Person should be notified of any changes or concerns in the use of the Props, action of the cast or crew, or placement of equipment in order to determine whether an additional safety meeting is necessary.

Safe Use and Handling of Props

  • Real or fake Props shall be strong enough that they will not accidentally break into dangerous pieces when being used for their intended purpose. It is best to use dulled or blunted Props made to order for use as Props, as dulling a sharp Prop can lessen its tensile strength. Sharpened Props should only be used when the appearance of cutting or piercing cannot be otherwise simulated. Sharpened Props should only be used by those trained, qualified, or experienced in the use of the Prop.
  • Props used to strike other weapons or other hard surfaces should be made of steel or high-tensile aluminum. The use of fiberglass Props in such situations should be avoided.
  • The use of a rubber “double” should be considered, depending on the action, and after consultation with the Responsible Person.
  • The use of Props should be limited to filming and rehearsals supervised by qualified personnel. Use these Props only for their intended purpose. Do not engage in, or permit, horseplay or target practice on or off the set.
  • Never allow the dry fire of archery equipment.
  • No person is to be coaxed, coerced or forced into handling these Props.
  • Consult the Responsible Person or designee, First Assistant Director, Production Safety Representative or Stunt Coordinator, if you have any doubts or questions about the proper handling of these Props. Actors and others who will handle an edged, piercing or projectile Prop, and claim prior knowledge, will be required to demonstrate their experience in the safe handling of the Prop to one of the persons listed in the preceding sentence.
  • Know where and what your target is at all times. Do not release the Prop unless you have a clear view of your target.
  • Identify the individual designated to cue the use of a Prop. Use a cue that can be recognized even during photography. Never propel a Prop until you receive the designated cue. Always have an agreed upon abort signal, in case it is necessary to abort the use of a Prop.
  • Report any malfunctions of equipment to the Responsible Person or designee immediately. Do not attempt to adjust, modify or repair equipment yourself. It is best to have a duplicate immediately available. Malfunctioning equipment should be taken out of service until properly repaired by a person qualified to do so.
  • Never lay down or leave these Props unattended. Unless actively filming or rehearsing, all Props should be secured by the Responsible Person.
  • Cast and crew should use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when exposed to these Props.

All state and federal safety regulations are applicable and override these guidelines if they are more stringent.

Additional Considerations

Allow sufficient time to train performers and to rehearse the action so that everyone involved knows what their part in the action will be.

  • Keep all non-essential personnel out of the rehearsal area.