Recognizing the Risks of Methyl Ethyl Ketone and Other Chemical Hazards at Your Site

Methyl ethyl ketone and other chemicals can cause illness or death for construction workers.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.


The Deadly Dozen: Unsafe Conditions Fire and Explosion Hazards

Explosion hazards in the workplace are largely prevented by good protocols and training.Periodically, our blog will feature articles on construction’s deadly dozen. This article will focus on fire and explosion hazards. Fire and explosion hazards are listed third on the deadly dozen’s unsafe conditions list. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), fire and explosion hazards are generally caused by:

• Flammable and combustible cleaning solvents such as Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK), mineral spirits, and diesel fuel or oil.

• Liquids with high flash points (greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit) may present a fire or explosion hazard when applied as a fire mist.

• Liquids with low flash point (less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit) pose hazards when used.

• Airborne particles or dust.

• Hydrogen gas generated during cleaning processes such as acid washes.

• Reactive cargoes such as iron-ore, fertilizers, or incompatible chemicals.

Recent statistics released by OSHA indicate fires and explosions account for 3% of workplace fatalities. OSHA officials consistently emphasize fire and explosion incidents can be avoided if safety protocols are followed and training offered to workers.

In July 2012, two employees of a Texas based general contractor were killed when they mistakenly ignited combustible dust while using a torch to cut metal. OSHA cited the company for failing to inform employees about combustible dust explosions and hazards.

OSHA and the National Fire Protection Association are committed to offering fire safety awareness tools to construction workers in an effort to prevent similar tragedies from occurring. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggests the following basic safety precautions to prevent fire and explosions at construction sites: