Construction work is extremely diverse. The health and safety of workers is a constant challenge among employers. On a daily basis, construction workers may come in contact with various chemical hazards which can result in injury, illness, or death. At construction work sites, hazardous chemicals exist in forms such as dust, fumes, liquids, gas, and vapors. Primarily, chemicals enter the body via inhalation, ingestion, and absorption. Methyl ethyl ketone is one such compound that is especially dangerous.
Recently, a 53 year-old Missouri construction worker died when he was overcome by exposure to Methyl ethyl ketone. The worker was inside an 18-foot-deep manhole when he collapsed and died at the site. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited and fined the general contractor, KCI Construction as well as another Missouri company, Coatings Unlimited for this incident. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) is a colorless liquid solvent with an acetone-like odor. It is volatile and potentially explosive. Its main uses are in the manufacture of a number of resins, waxes, and coatings, as well as a general industrial solvent for nitrocellulose coating, vinyl film, and smokeless powder manufacture. Over 500 million pounds of it are produced each year in the United States, and probably more than three million workers are exposed to it yearly. When in enclosed or confined spaces, workers risk being exposed to excessive amounts of solvent vapors. According to OSHA, solvents tend to cause the following symptoms:
• Irritated eyes, nose or throat.
• Makes you dizzy, high, sleepy, give you headaches, or cause you to pass out.
• Affects your judgment or coordination.
• Causes internal damage to your body.
• Dry out or irritate your skin.
Exposure to solvents or other chemicals in confined spaces can be deadly. In order to reduce the risk of exposure to chemical hazards at construction sites, OSHA advises employers to follow certain precautions.
• Conduct a risk assessment. Employers should consider all possible hazards that may confront workers while at the site. All possible hazards must be identified.
• If hazards are identified, employers should take the initiative to eliminate the hazard by altering the way the job is performed or consider using substitute materials.
• Employers have a responsibility to control the risks associated with hazardous chemicals at their construction site. If the hazard cannot be eliminated, employers should ventilate the work area, reduce the amount of hazardous chemical used, and isolate the hazardous process so that workers not involved with the work being performed are not affected.
• Educate and train workers to recognize hazards chemicals and become familiar with strategies related to handling them safely.