OSHA “Fatal Facts” Sheet Addresses Methylene Chloride Exposure
A new OSHA “Fatal Facts” sheet describes an incident in which a temporary worker died from exposure to methylene chloride while removing the coating from a bathtub in a residential building. OSHA’s Fatal Facts sheets discuss cases in which employers fail to identify and correct hazardous working conditions, leading to fatalities at their work sites.
The worker discussed in the new Fatal Facts sheet died while using a paint remover containing 85 to 90 percent methylene chloride with only a partially open window for ventilation. According to OSHA, the employer did not institute and enforce safe work practices or adhere to the requirements in the agency’s methylene chloride standard. OSHA notes that the worker’s blood/methylene chloride level was 89 mg/ml, which indicates that the atmospheric exposure was likely over the NIOSH Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) concentration for methylene chloride of 2,300 ppm.
OSHA characterizes methylene chloride exposure during bathtub refinishing as “extremely hazardous” because the chemical’s vapors can rapidly reach toxic levels and reduce oxygen levels through displacement in small and poorly ventilated spaces. OSHA’s current permissible exposure limit (PEL) for methylene chloride is 25 ppm over an 8-hour time-weighted average; the agency’s short-term exposure limit (STEL) for the chemical is 125 ppm over any 15-minute period. OSHA’s methylene chloride standard also includes an action level of 12.5 ppm for 30 or more days per year.
OSHA identified 17 worker deaths related to bathtub refinishing using paint removers containing methylene chloride from 2000 to 2015. In 2013, OSHA and NIOSH released a joint hazard alert warning employers and others of the hazards of methylene chloride-based stripping agents. A year later, EPA published its final risk assessment of the chemical, which indicates health risks to workers and consumers.
According to OSHA, employers must provide workers with adequate ventilation, respiratory protection, protective clothing, and proper equipment when using products containing methylene chloride. Employers must also perform monitoring and air sampling to determine worker exposure to methylene chloride and train workers to protect themselves while working with this toxic chemical.