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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

Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Provide employees with respirators for use during screen-printing or spray-painting tasks when air-contaminant levels are above OELS. PPE is the least effective way to control employee exposures because it requires a high level of employee commitment and can result in adverse physiological effects. Use of respirators should not be the only method for limiting exposures, but should be worn until hazardous chemicals can be substituted or engineering (ventilation) and administrative controls lower exposures to an acceptable level.

Employees wearing respirators must be properly fitted, trained, and undergo medical evaluations. The company must prepare a written respirator program that documents how they comply with OSHA respirator-program requirements. Refer to the OSHA respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) for information on proper use, maintenance, and storage, or to Appendix D of the standard if use is voluntary.

Provide chemical-resistant gloves specific to the type of chemicals in the lacquer thinner or screen-printing ink. To prevent skin exposures from chemicals, follow a reference guide such as Quick Selection Guide to Chemical Protective Clothing (see resources and links) to determine appropriate gloves, as well as other PPE, to use. Latex is not an appropriate glove material for screen printing because the solvents in inks or lacquer thinner can damage it relatively quickly, and some people are allergic to latex.

Provide and require employees to wear the appropriate protective eyewear when using hazardous chemicals and performing activities that might result in chemical splashes. The type of personal protective eyewear used must be chosen depending on the specific work situation and hazards and each person’s individual requirements.

Install an eye-wash station in the screen-printing or spray-painting area. The eye-wash station should be capable of providing adequate liquid for at least 15 minutes of drenching or flushing of the eyes. It can be either plumbed or self-contained. Refer to the OSHA standard in 29 CFR 1910.151(c) for more information about eye-wash stations.

Fire safety
Do not use plastic containers for any flammable or combustible liquids, such as lacquer thinner, unless the container has been approved by Underwriters Laboratory Inc. One example of a container for daily use of flammable liquids is an Underwriters Laboratory, Inc.-approved metal safety container with a plunger dispensing mechanism.

Electrically ground containers of flammable liquids, and make sure that dispensing and receiving containers are properly bonded before transferring flammable liquids.

Consider the quantity of flammable material being stored in the work area, and use flammable-material-storage cabinets. The National Fire Protection Association Standard 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code has additional guidance on safe storage, handling, and use of volatile substances and is available at

Lilia Chen and Scott Brueck are NIOSH employees; Maureen Niemeier is a contract employee of NIOSH working as a freelance technical writer.

Resources and Links to More Expanded Information

NIOSH HHE reports:

Forsberg K, Mansdorf SZ [2007]. Quick selection guide to chemical protective clothing. 5th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

NIOSH topic page on skin exposures and effects:

Respirator Usage
OSHA [1998]. OSHA Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Revised Respiratory Protection Standard.

NIOSH topic page on eye safety:

OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard and Information for Employees Using Respirators when not Required Under Standard - 1910.134 Appendix D.

PPE Guidance
OSHA guidance on PPE:


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