OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health jointly released the Hazard Alert saying many of the injuries and deaths can be avoided.
Methylene chloride, a chlorinated solvent often referred to as dichloromethane, is a volatile, colorless liquid with a sweet smell. It is used in a variety of industrial settings, but is especially risky to workers in small, poorly ventilated spaces.
Bathtub refinishing is the process of restoring the surface of an old bathtub to improve its appearance and repair surface damage. It typically involves removing the existing finish before applying a new coating and is a less expensive alternative to replacing the fixture. However, refinishing often involves the use of hazardous chemicals including methylene chloride.
"Use of these chemicals in bathrooms is extremely dangerous, particularly because bathrooms are often small, enclosed spaces with little or no ventilation. Since methylene chloride is a volatile organic compound that will evaporate faster when sprayed, brushed or poured, the chemical vapors can quickly build up in small spaces," according to the hazard alert. "Moreover, because methylene chloride evaporates quickly vapors can collect in the bottom of a bathtub and in the worker's breathing zone when working in the bathtub. This situation creates dangerously high concentrations of methylene chloride and even replaces the breathable air. Exposure to as little as six ounces of methylene chloride-based material has been enough to cause death."
The substance poses a risk to workers who breathe it or absorb it through their skin. Low level exposure can cause dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea, a feeling of intoxication, and irritation of the eye, nose and throat. Increased exposure can result in suffocation, loss of consciousness, coma, and sudden death. Long-term exposure is associated with cancer of the liver and lung, and tumors in the breast and salivary glands.
Using alternative, less hazardous chemicals or methods that eliminate the use of methylene chloride can prevent illnesses and deaths, according to the experts. If that is not possible, safe work practices can mitigate the risks.
The agencies suggest employers:
- Ensure adequate ventilation. "Bathroom fans or open windows do not provide adequate ventilation," according to the alert. Employers are therefore advised to use a qualified occupational safety and health specialist to assist in the design and installation of local exhaust ventilation.
- Avoid or minimize spraying methylene chloride.
- Use long-handled tools to avoid the need to lean into the tub.
- Make sure workers leave the room immediately after applying the methylene chloride-based stripping agent to limit exposure to the vapors.
In some cases personal protective equipment is recommended. These should include full-face atmosphere-supplying respirators, as air-purifying respirators are not permitted. Protective gloves, clothing and eyewear should also be provided.
Workers should be properly trained in a manner and language they understand.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
March 11, 2013
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