Chemicals

Methylene Chloride: Protecting Exposed Workers

Yesterday we looked at the hazards of methylene chloride, a common paint-stripping chemical with many industrial uses—and many hazards, including cancer. Today, let’s talk about how to protect workers from exposure to this narcotic, corrosive, carcinogenic chemical.

You can protect workers from methylene chloride exposures by:

Choosing a safer chemical. Many alternatives are available for strippers that contain methylene chloride. Some options include:

  • Abrasive methods. Surfaces that require stripping can be sanded using a sander with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-filtering vacuum attachment or with a paint scraper.
  • Thermal methods. A heat gun, heat plate, or infrared lamp can loosen paint and permit it to be peeled or scraped away.
  • Safer strippers. Strippers based on benzyl alcohol are generally considered safer than strippers based on methylene chloride. Be aware, though, that formulations containing N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP) may be hazardous to unborn children and should not be used by pregnant women.

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Ventilating the work area. Ventilation must be adequate to keep worker exposure levels below the OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL). Typically, ceiling fans or household ventilation (for example, bathroom exhaust fans that are used when strippers are applied to bathtubs) are inadequate for this purpose; industrial-strength mechanical ventilation must be provided.

Providing personal protective equipment. OSHA specifies that air-purifying respirators (cartridge respirators) are inadequate for protection against methylene chloride exposure, because methylene chloride can penetrate most respirator cartridges and has a table specifying the minimum respirator type required at different exposure levels.


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At concentrations up to 625 parts per million (ppm), workers must be provided with a continuous flow supplied-air respirator, hood, or helmet; at concentrations up to 1,250 ppm, a full-face, air-supplying respirator is required. If the respirators are provided for emergency escape purposes, a gas mask with an organic vapor canister is the least protective option employers may lawfully provide.

Choose polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) protective gloves, to resist chemical penetration, and outfit workers with abrasion-resistant gloves to wear over them. Do not provide workers with latex or nitrile gloves, which methylene chloride readily penetrates.

Training for Employee Protection

Of course, all the safety precautions you take will be for nothing if workers don’t understand what their role is in protecting their own safety.

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Each lesson also includes completion certificates, sign-in sheets, evaluation forms, and training records. In short, it contains everything you need to motivate, reinforce, retain, and transfer new knowledge—and document that you did so.

In addition to electrical safety and lockout/tagout, Safety Training Presentations topics covered include:

—Bloodborne Pathogens

—Back Safety

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—and more!

Of course, training needs change as OSHA introduces new requirements or as new work practices and technologies bring new hazards. To cover this, you receive a new CD every 90 days you’re in the program, each containing five additional or updated topics.

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We’ve arranged for Advisor subscribers to get a no-cost, no-obligation look at Safety Training Presentations for 30 days. Feel free to try a few lessons with your own trainees. Please let us know, and we’ll be glad to set it up.