Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA

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

Process: Surface Preparation and Preservation


Case History

illustration of workers working as described to the left

Four workers were located in the inner bottom void of a tugboat that was under construction, working with flammable solvents to prepare the space for painting.

Despite employer knowledge of the flammability of the solvents in use, no effort was made to inspect and test the confined space prior to entry and as work took place. The concentration of flammable vapors soon exceeded the prescribed allowable limits, which led to an explosion when combined with the use of non-explosion proof lighting. Two of the workers died, while the other two suffered third-degree burns.


illustration of workers working as described to the left

Analysis and Preventive Measures

illustration of worker conducting monitoring as described to the left

This incident was preventable. Had the employer followed the appropriate safety precautions, loss of life and serious physical harm to the workers involved could have been avoided. These include:

  • Ensuring that atmospheric monitoring by a competent person was performed to determine if an explosive atmosphere existed;
  • Performing a hazard assessment prior to work to identify the potential hazards present, and determine ways to eliminate the hazards;
  • Providing explosion-proof, self-contained temporary and portable lights for use in atmospheres that contain a concentration of flammable vapors at or above 10 percent of the LEL; and
  • Ensuring an effective means of natural or mechanical ventilation was used to dilute the concentration of vapors in the space to a level less than 10 percent of the LEL.


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