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Paint Stripper Deaths Draw OSHA Alert

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

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Stripping paint with a methylene chloride product in a tight bathroom space is a fast way to die, federal officials are warning contractors in a new Hazard Alert.

The Hazard Alert from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) targets workers who use methylene chloride-based stripping products in bathtub refinishing.

Unventilated Bathroom Methylene Chloride Paint Stripper
MD Occupational Safety and Health (left); Iowa Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program (right)

Tight bathrooms and methylene chloride-based paint strippers are a deadly combination, health officials warn.

Methylene chloride, commonly used in over-the-counter paint and finish stripping products, has been implicated in at least 14 deaths since 2000 of workers refinishing bathtubs. These workers were generally working alone, in poorly ventilated bathrooms, with inadequate or no respiratory protection, and no training about the hazards of methylene chloride.

The new OSHA-NIOSH Hazard Alert details methylene chloride’s toxicity, safety precautions when using methylene chloride and employer responsibilities under OSHA's methylene chloride standard. OSHA's methylene chloride standard also governs the chemical's use.

Contractor Deaths

The alert highlights "just two of many similar cases" involving the death of contractors who work with the methylene chloride products.

In September 2011, the alert says, a worker using such a product to strip the glaze from a bathtub collapsed in the tub and later died. In February 2012, a worker using the product to refinish a tub was found slumped over the tub in an unventilated bathroom.

The workers were typically found to have been working alone; with little or no protective equipment or clothing; and/or in small, windowless bathrooms. Some of the deaths have involved the use of as little as six ounces of product, regulators said

Bathtub refinishing—removing the existing finish and recoating with an epoxy or polyurethane—has grown in popularity in recent years as an affordable alternative to fixture removal and replacement.

Safe use of paint stripper
CA Department of Public Health

When the use of methylene chloride strippers cannot be avoided, safety precautions include protective clothing, respiratory protection, and ventilation.

Regulators note that when workers use methylene chloride to strip coatings from bathtubs, they often spray or pour a stripping product into the tub and then brush it onto the surface. Use of these chemicals in bathrooms is extremely dangerous, however, because bathrooms are often small, enclosed spaces with little or no ventilation.

Furthermore, because methylene chloride is a volatile organic compound that evaporates faster when sprayed, brushed, or poured, the chemical vapors can quickly build up in small spaces.

"This situation creates dangerously high concentrations of methylene chloride and even replaces the breathable air," the alert says.

Preventing Danger

Such deaths could be prevented by using alternative, less-hazardous chemicals or methods that eliminate the use of methylene chloride, health officials say.

If that is not possible, employers can still prevent deaths and illnesses by enforcing safe work practices that include adequate ventilation, respiratory protection, protective clothing and equipment, and thorough training.


Tagged categories: Commercial contractors; Fatalities; Health and safety; Methylene chloride; NIOSH; OSHA; Residential contractors

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (2/6/2013, 8:56 AM)

NEWS: Working alone with solvents in an unventilated space without a proper respirator or safety training is dangerous. Don't do it.

Comment from Fred Wittenberg, (2/6/2013, 12:33 PM)

If you can't read & comprehend the warning label(s) on products like this, find a less dangerous profession!

Comment from Victoria Chapman, (2/6/2013, 7:21 PM)

Read the MSDS, do a Risk Assessment (for every job) and make sure you have the right gear (including safety gear) to do the job.

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