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OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Administration
U.S. Department of Labor

Process: Surface Preparation and Preservation

 

Case History

worker having difficulty breathing illustration

A worker entered a space that had recently been spray painted with epoxy paint. The space was declared safe to enter by a shipyard competent person who had tested the space for adequate oxygen levels and potentially explosive atmosphere.

After spending a brief time in the area, and removing her respirator, the worker began to have difficulty breathing. She sat down to catch her breath but the condition worsened. She signaled to her coworkers, who helped her onto the weather deck where she started to breathe easier.

A while later, her breathing returned to normal and she went back to the same job. Once back at work, she began to experience difficulty breathing again and left the space.

Her supervisor arranged for the worker to seek medical attention. The examination and evaluation indicated that the worker had developed sensitivity to the isocyanates in epoxy paint vapors, resulting in occupational asthma. She could no longer work in compartments where the paint was not fully cured and was assigned to work in a different part of the ship.

Analysis and Preventive Measures

worker illustration showing Epoxy Vapor (arrow pointing to nose/mouth) and Dermal (Skin) Exposure (arrow pointing to right arm that is not cover by a sleeve)

Some workers exposed to epoxy and polyurethane coatings that contain isocyanate components, or other compounds that have not completely dried or hardened, may develop a sensitivity that causes symptoms. Symptoms include sore throat, difficulty breathing, and skin conditions including rashes, blistering, and reddening of the skin.

This sensitivity can develop without warning after single or multiple exposures. If symptoms occur, the affected worker should immediately move to fresh air, and undergo a medical evaluation before returning to work.

The use of respiratory protection and ventilation, as well as skin protection, will help prevent exposure to isocyanates during painting and curing activities. Skin exposure to isocyanates can lead to isocyanate-induced asthma. Once a worker has developed a sensitivity to epoxy, even low concentrations can trigger symptoms.

It is recommended that workers who have developed a sensitivity to epoxy be assigned to areas where no exposure is possible, or be provided with supplied-air respiratory protection and PPE to prevent any skin exposure.

 

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