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Workers' compensation: Chemical exposure kills bath refurbishers

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, one or more bathtub refinishers nationwide, including California, have died as the result of occupational methylene chloride exposure every year since 2000. This volatile organic compound is typically used to strip bathtubs by pouring it into the tub and then spreading it across the entire surface with a brush before refinishing them. Many workers' compensation claims involve methylene chloride exposure.

The vapor pressure of the compound is extremely high, allowing it to evaporate fast, with dangerous vapors that build up in small spaces. The deadly fumes settle on the bathtub's bottom, which is precisely where the worker's head is when he or she works on stripping the tub. The volume of the evaporated compound can replace breathable air within a short time, and safety authorities say no more than six ounces of the stripping product is necessary to cause a worker's death.

Workers should take note of overexposure symptoms that typically follow inhalation of the toxic fumes. They include impaired concentration, fatigue, dizziness, headache, weakness, numbness, and irritation of the eyes and upper respiratory tract. If not promptly treated, the worker could suffocate, lose consciousness, go into a coma and die. Acute inhalation exposure could cause hepatitis and optic neuropathy, while skin contact can cause chemical burns and skin irritation, and it can even cause some of the skin's fatty tissue to dissolve. Bath refurbishers should be informed about the hazards posed by methylene chloride and never work alone; the bathrooms must be well ventilated, and they must wear adequate respiratory protection.

California workers who are suffering the consequences of chemical exposure might be entitled to seek financial assistance through the state-regulated workers' compensation insurance system. An experienced attorney can assist with the claims process to obtain coverage of medical expenses and lost wages. Families who have lost loved ones in such circumstances can claim death benefits, which will cover funeral and burial expenses, and lost income.

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