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Evaluation of Exposure to Organic Solvents

(February 2011) posted on Tue Feb 22, 2011

NIOSH makes a site visit to determine whether harmful conditions are present and to make proposals for employee safety at a small screen-printing company.

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By Lilia Chen, Maureen Niemeier, Scott E. Brueck

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) functions as an agency under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) responsible for conducting research and making recommendations to prevent work-related injury and illness. The NIOSH health-hazard evaluation (HHE) program is available for employees, employers, or union representatives to use for an investigation of health and safety concerns. This may result in sending the requestor information, referring them to a more appropriate agency, or making a site visit, which may include environmental sampling and medical testing. After a site visit, we prepare a report that includes recommendations to correct problems.

This article discusses an HHE we conducted at a small screen-printing company to address potential occupational exposure hazards. It includes our findings and recommendations provided in the ensuing report.

We received an HHE request from a company that designs and screen prints acrylic signs for a variety of businesses. Housed in a four-story, 35,000-sq-ft building, the company employs 22 people with only three involved directly in screen printing or spray painting. Company management and employees were concerned about possible harmful health effects from exposures to organic solvents in lacquer thinner and screen-printing inks.

We visited the facility to collect air samples, measure airflow in the spray-paint booth, check air movement in the screen-printing area, evaluate personal protective equipment (PPE) use, and identify fire safety hazards. Workers were mostly exposed to breathing solvent vapors during screen printing and washing. However, they were also exposed to vapors from evaporation of solvent-soaked cleaning towels. Additionally, workers had skin exposure to solvents.

We took air samples for toluene, n-hexane, isopropyl alcohol, acetone, and cyclohexanone. Air-monitoring results indicated that full-shift exposure to these individual chemicals did not exceed occupational exposure limits (OELs) established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, exposure to the mixture of solvents was slightly above the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) recommendations. Short-term exposure to isopropyl alcohol during screen printing and screen washing could exceed short-term exposure limits (STELs).


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