U.S. Department of Labor
Process: Surface Preparation and Preservation
Spray Painting: Case History (Fires and Explosions)
Two workers were spray painting the interior of a barge. During a break, they came out of the space to smoke cigarettes. Neither worker realized that their clothes had become saturated with highly flammable paint vapors during their work inside the barge.
As soon as the ignition source (i.e., cigarette lighter) was lit, the vapors in the fabric of their clothing caught fire. Both men burned to death.
Analysis and Preventive Measures
The workers had been in an atmosphere with high concentrations of explosive vapors. Several measures may have prevented this tragedy, including:
- Worker training (to include personal hygiene practices).
- Adequate ventilation in place.
- Ongoing air monitoring to ensure that safe atmospheric conditions are maintained.
Ventilation is critical for removing explosive vapors. Use supply and exhaust methods that have been proven effective.
LEL testing by a competent person is required, and is a critical step in determining whether a supply and exhaust ventilation system is effective in controlling a flammable atmosphere (29 CFR 1915.36(a)(2)).