Preventing Isocyanate Exposure

As previously reported in CRASH Network, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is stepping up inspection of collision repair shops as part of a 3-year emphasis on protecting workers from isocyanate exposure (CRASH 4/28/14).

Catherine Sayles of Bayer Material Science, a raw material supplier of isocyanates to paint manufacturers, shared some advice for shops during a presentation at the Collision Industry Conference last month. Her company recommends the use of nitrile gloves (not latex) when working around isocyanates, but cautioned that shops can no longer presume that “blue gloves” are nitrile as opposed to just latex.

“In the past, the latex manufacturers always made their gloves white and the nitrile gloves were blue,” she said. “Now the manufacturers of latex gloves are also making them in different colors, including blue. So there’s confusion sometimes as to whether a blue glove is latex or nitrile. You want to make sure you’re paying attention to the box and what kind of glove you’re using, because latex gloves are not adequate for isocyanate protection.”

OSHA is also testing parts of the shop away from the paint area to see if, for example, a painter wearing a spraysuit into the shop lunchroom has left isocyanates on a chair. How long do isocyanates on such surfaces pose an exposure risk for others? Sayles said it varies.

“If it’s still wet, I would definitely say you have that potential,” she said. “Once it’s dry, it depends on how much of it is there, how thick it is, how much isocyanate is actually in the product.”

She said shops can check for surface or skin contamination from isocyanates – after clean-up of a spill, for example – by using Swype test kits for aliphatic isocyanates. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), workers improperly exposed to isocyanates can suffer permanent respiratory complications, and even death, from a single episode of overexposure or intermittent exposures at low concentrations.

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