Auto refinishers use many potentially harmful chemicals when painting vehicles and auto parts. In particular, auto shops use solvents, isocyanates, pigments and other additives in paints and coatings that can present serious risks to your employee’s health and the environment as well. In conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Design for the Environment (DfE) Program, the agency launched the Auto Refinish Project to provide health and safety recommendations for reducing employee injuries and illnesses in auto body shops around the U.S.
This program was created partially because workers tend to overlook their safety when mixing paint and during cleanup tasks. In fact, many workers perform paint mixing and cleanup duties in small, enclosed rooms with little or no ventilation or with ventilation that works improperly. This often increases their exposure to dangerous chemicals. However, a properly installed ventilation system will remove harmful vapors from the air and will provide a healthy working environment for employees.
TYPES OF VENTILATION SYSTEMS
General Exhaust Systems:
- Typically consist of an exhaust fan, mounted in a ceiling or wall that pulls air out of the workroom and discharges it outdoors.
- Replacement air is brought into the work area by either natural means (windows or vents) or by a more sophisticated setup that includes a separate make-up air fan, duct work and air registers that provide clean air to the work space.
- Systems are not recommended as the sole source of ventilation when hazardous vapors are present because they do not immediately remove vapors from the work space.
Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems:
- Remove chemicals and other contaminants at their source.
- Systems are recommended for controlling hazardous vapors because they remove vapors before workers are exposed to them.
- Systems consist of the following: a hood installed close to where the work is performed to capture vapors, ductwork to transport vapors from the hood to the outdoors and a fan located downstream of the hood to draw air away from the work area.
The most effective means of ventilating your paint mixing room is to use both local and general exhaust ventilation systems together. A local exhaust system installed at the work bench as close to the mixing operation as possible will capture most hazardous vapors before they can escape into the air. General ventilation systems, on the other hand, for rooms with floor level exhaust vents, will remove low-lying vapors that are not captured by the local exhaust system or are generated from other sources of vapor in the room.
Make Wise Decisions
An improperly designed system will do little to improve your current workplace conditions and will not protect your workers from hazards. For this very reason, it is important to make sure your system is designed and installed by properly trained individuals, such as a qualified ventilation contractor or an industrial hygienist. As an alternative, prefabricated paint mixing rooms are currently on the market and typically provide spill protection, explosion-proof electrical installation and general ventilation.
Regardless of what type of ventilation system that you choose, keep in mind that vapors produced in paint mixing rooms are extremely flammable and can produce explosive environments. For this reason, all electrical equipment that you place or install in this room (including ventilation fans, wiring and switches) must be specifically designed and approved for use in explosive atmospheres. Ventilation equipment manufacturers should also be able to tell you what types of environments their equipment can be used in properly. Beyond that, it is wise to contact your local Fire Marshall to learn more about applicable electrical requirements.
Keeping your workers safe is not only your obligation, it is the law. Visit www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/auto/index.htm for more information on how you can protect your auto body workers from the occupational hazards they encounter each and every day.
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