NIOSH, OSHA Release Bathtub Refinishing Alert

At least 14 workers have died since 2000 while using stripping products that include methylene chloride, according to the document.

A new Hazard Alert published by OSHA and NIOSH discusses the hazards of using stripping products that include the sweet-smelling solvent methylene chloride when refinishing a bathtub. Pointing out that methylene chloride exposures can occur both by breathing it in and by skin absorption, the alert says if workers smell it, "they are being overexposed because methylene chloride cannot be smelled until the level in the air is higher than OSHA’s permissible exposure limits."

Many stripping products contain high percentages of methylene chloride, and using them in a small space such as a bathroom that may have little or no ventilation is extremely hazardous, it says. At least 14 workers have died since 2000 in this way, according to the document.

According to the alert, fatality investigations have shown the common factors in these deaths include working alone in small, windowless, poorly ventilated bathrooms and wearing no or inadequate respiratory protection, wearing the wrong type of or no skin protection, and working without being trained on the hazards.

Bathroom fans and open windows do not provide adequate ventilation, it warns. The best way to prevent exposures is to use products that don't contain the solvent. But if it is used, the workers should follow OSHA's methylene chloride standard, 29 CFR 1910.1052, and should use local exhaust ventilation and adequate PPE, including a full-face supplied air respirator, eye and face protection, and protective gloves.

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