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California Fatality Alert warns of methylene chloride risks for those working in confined spaces.

The Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health has issued a Fatality Alert to emphasize the dangers associated with confined spaces and using toxic solvents to clean in them. The alert, under the California Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (CA/FACE) program, linked methylene chloride to a worker's death in a tank.

The Fatality Alert underscored prevention points, including the use of safer methods and less toxic chemicals to remove paint, and following confined space regulations when working with toxic chemicals in enclosed spaces.

The CA/FACE program is investigating the preventable death of a worker who was using a paint stripper inside a tank at a paint manufacturing company. A second worker was also nearly killed after attempting a rescue.

The victim was working by himself using a paint stripper to remove dried paint from the inside of a tank. The product contained methylene chloride (at least 60%), methanol, and mineral spirits. The tank was 7 x 7 x 9 ft with a 2 x 7 ft opening at the top, and was a permit-required confined space under California OSHA regulations. The space was not adequately ventilated and the victim was not trained in confined space entry. The company had not stationed an attendant at the tank entrance to monitor the victim while he worked in the tank. A co-worker was overcome when he attempted a rescue after seeing the victim unconscious at the bottom of the tank. The victim could not be resuscitated. The cause of death according to the local coroner was asphyxia due to inhalation of dichloromethane (methylene chloride). The co-worker was hospitalized and treated for methylene chloride poisoning.

Both of the workers were overcome by dangerous levels of solvent vapors inside the paint tank. The paint tank was a permit-required confined space, but proper testing. entry. and rescue procedures were not in place to prevent both workers from being overcome by toxic vapors. The victim was wearing a cartridge respirator that did not adequately protect against inhaling methylene chloride vapors.

Methylene chloride has been linked by Federal OSHA to over 50 worker deaths nationwide since the mid-1980s, primarily from use in poorly ventilated spaces. Methylene chloride is also considered by many regulatory agencies in the U.S. to cause cancer, and is banned from many uses in Europe.

Employers should establish procedures to clean paint tanks more frequently with water-based materials before the paint is cured. If this is not possible, the cured paint should be stripped with abrasive removal methods. If toxic chemicals must be used inside a tank, employers must provide worker training in confined space entry and must follow OSHA regulations during an entry. This includes providing proper ventilation, supplied air respiratory protection, air monitoring, communications, and means of rescue and retrieval.

The Fatality Alert is available at: To learn more about safety in confined spaces, visit
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Title Annotation:ACA Issues In-Depth
Publication:JCT CoatingsTech
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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