Because paint is used in many applications, some industries have to strip this paint for various reasons. For example, contractors and renovators may need to strip paint off wood to refurbish cabinets. Unfortunately, while paint stripping is necessary, it can also be highly dangerous and come with unique health risks.
So, to help you protect your workers, we're going to discuss the various paint stripping precautions you should take. We'll also provide tips on best practices to ensure the health and safety of everyone on your job site. Here's what you need to know about worker safety and paint stripping.
What is Paint Stripping?
As the name suggests, this process is when you use a product to remove paint from a surface. Since paint can bond with various materials (e.g., wood, concrete, or vinyl siding), stripping agents allow workers to remove the paint without ruining what's underneath.
Usually, paint stripping involves the following steps:
- First, workers prepare the area by covering everything in protective sheeting. Also, many paint strippers can produce toxic fumes, so ventilation and PPE such as respirators are also necessary.
- Next, workers apply the stripping agent. Depending on the product used, individuals may have to wait several hours for the stripper to do its work. Manufacturer guidelines show the wait times for each product.
- Finally, workers use tools to scrape the paint off the surface. Once finished, individuals clean and scrub the surface to remove any paint or stripper residue. For wood, workers also sand the surface to prep it for a new coat of paint.
Types of Paint Strippers
Paint stripping agents fall into one of three categories - caustic, solvent, and biochemical. Here's a quick overview of all three options:
- Caustic- The term caustic means "able to burn or corrode organic tissue and material." Since most paint nowadays is oil-based, caustic strippers can remove it from various surfaces. The active ingredient in an acidic product is lye, which can be made of potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. As the agent reacts with the paint, it turns the material into soap, making it easy to remove.
- Solvent- This type of paint stripper can be the most dangerous, particularly if the solvent uses methylene chloride. We'll discuss the various health risks of this chemical in the next section. Solvents work by separating the paint from the surface rather than dissolving the paint itself. In addition to methylene chloride, workers can use alcohol, acetone, and ketone mixtures. Another effective agent is N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP), although it also has adverse side effects.
- Biochemical- To offer eco-friendly products, some manufacturers derive stripping agents from natural sources, such as citrus fruits or wood pulp. Although these products are marketed as "safe," they still contain several industrial chemicals, including NMP, so they're not entirely harmless. Also, biochemical strippers take a lot longer to work since they're not as potent.
Each paint stripping option has various side effects, which can range from mild to life-threatening. For example, caustic strippers can irritate or burn the skin and produce harmful fumes that can irritate the eyes.
Solvent chemicals are more dangerous, as they can lead to long-term health issues like brain and cardiovascular damage. Even biochemical agents can have side effects, although they're often much milder.
Methylene Chloride and Paint Stripping
In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all sales and imports of methylene chloride products in the United States. The ban came after several high-profile worker deaths resulting from acute exposure to the chemical. After an investigation, the EPA decided on the ban.
The reason behind the ban is that methylene chloride can cause a wide range of adverse health effects. Examples can include:
- Irritation of the eyes and skin
- Drowsiness and disorientation
- Numbness and a tingling sensation in the limbs
- Loss of consciousness
- Liver and heart damage
Typically, workers can die from prolonged exposure to the chemical. They can pass out and then continue to inhale the toxic fumes, leading to death. Long term effects of methylene chloride include chronic dermatitis (skin irritation), nerve and liver damage, and cancer.
Safety Measures and Best Practices for Paint Stripping
Although the sale and import of methylene chloride are banned, some companies may still use the chemical for paint stripping and other processes. So, here are the top methylene chloride safety precautions to use if your workers may be exposed.
Use Proper Ventilation
The primary issue with methylene chloride is that it can evaporate quickly and dissipate into the air. So, if workers are in enclosed spaces, they're more at risk of toxic inhalation. The best way to alleviate this problem is to provide adequate ventilation at all job sites. If employees are working indoors, you should have interior vents, fans to circulate air throughout the space, or a respirator (PAPR, SCBA) to purify incoming air. Ideally, workers can strip paint outdoors where fumes can dissipate and be far less concentrated.
Use Monitoring Systems
According to OSHA's methylene chloride safety information, the permissible limit of methylene chloride in the workplace is 25 parts per million over an eight-hour period. For short-term exposure of 15 minutes or less, that limit is 125 ppm. By having testing systems in place, you can monitor workers to ensure that they're not exposed to too much MC at any given time.
Use Paint Stripping Protective Clothing
MC can cause health issues when exposed to direct skin or inhaled. Because of these dangers, it's crucial to use the right PPE for paint stripping. Even if you don't use methylene chloride, these pieces can help protect workers from other paint stripping agents. Here's a quick overview of the different types of PPE to use:
- Respirators- Self-contained respirator units are necessary for job sites where ventilation can't reduce MC exposure to OSHA-recommended levels. All workers should have sufficient oxygen to last a complete shift. Alternatively, you must swap employees regularly to ensure that they don't run out of air before having a chance to move to a safe area.
- Face Protection- Workers should wear goggles and a full-face mask. In situations where MC exposure is at or below OSHA levels, individuals do not need a respirator.
- Methylene Chloride-Resistant Gloves- Since MC can corrode various materials, you have to ensure that workers have MC-resistant gloves. The best material is polyethylene or ethylene vinyl alcohol. Latex and nitrile gloves do not provide enough protection, although they can be worn underneath PE or EVOH gloves if necessary.
- MC-Resistant Clothing- Employers must provide sufficient coveralls and outer layers for workers exposed to methylene chloride. Employees can wear regular clothing underneath as long as the outermost layer is MC-resistant.
In addition to providing PPE, employers must clean these garments after each use to ensure that there is no chemical residue left over. An alternative solution is disposable outer-layer coveralls. Disposable coveralls can be worn to help decrease the likelihood of chemical exposure throughout donning and doffing, laundering, or repair work that is done for reusable protective clothing.
Train Employees and Supervisors
Usually, the best prevention is to educate and train all workers and managers on the potential dangers of working with methylene chloride. If employees know what to expect, they can prepare themselves better, and they're more likely to follow safety procedures for paint stripping. Supervisors should also be able to check on workers at all times and inspect everything from monitoring systems to PPE to respirator oxygen levels and filter cartridges.
Develop a Workplace Safety Guideline
If workers get exposed to high levels of methylene chloride, they should know how to respond. For example, all employees should be able to vacate the premises and clean themselves immediately to remove any chemical residue. As an employer, you should have exits clearly marked, as well as wash stations available nearby.
Workers should also utilize a buddy system to check on each other regularly. This process can also help prevent serious accidents if one person falls unconscious from MC exposure.
Finally, each worker should have a walkie-talkie or communication device handy to call for assistance when necessary.
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Protecting your workers is not just good business; it's required by law. Thanks to our high-quality materials and PPE designs, International Enviroguard makes it easy to prevent severe accidents and health hazards. Browse our selection online and contact us when you're ready to make your first order.