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FACEValue: Workers using floor sanders killed when floor-finishing chemicals ignite

NIOSH’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Reports

Date of incident: Sept. 2, 2004

Two 35-year-old workers using floor sanders were killed and two others were seriously burned in a house fire after the lacquer floor sealer they were using ignited. Together, the victims had seven years of experience working for a wood flooring company that had been in business for 21 years. The company had no written hazard communication program, and the on-the-job training the victims received did not cover the hazards associated with this job function. Prior to the incident, the victims were on the third floor of the home applying the lacquer, while the survivors worked on the second floor. Multiple sources of ignition existed on the third floor, including a gas heating unit as well as gas and electrical appliances. The vapors from the lacquer ignited, engulfing the third floor in flames and creating a fireball that shot down the stairs to the first floor. Only three of the four workers were able to exit the building. The owner of the house called 911 after hearing the explosion. When the fire department arrived, the three workers, who spoke only Vietnamese, were unable to communicate that the fourth worker was still inside the building. Firefighters later found him inside the first floor stairwell; he was declared dead at the scene. The three other burn victims were transported to a local hospital, where one of them died the following day.

To prevent future occurrences:

  • Employers should use floor-finishing products that are less flammable for indoor applications. When finishing wood indoors, products with a flash point greater than 100° F should be used to reduce the risk of ignition, explosions and fire. The product used in this incident had a flash point of only 9° F.
  • Employers should ensure that ignition sources, including gas pilot lights, are extinguished before beginning work. In this case, a number of ignition sources were present within 50 feet of where the product was being applied. If possible, power should be shut off in the work area during floor finishing.
  • Employers should ensure that work areas are properly ventilated during application of wood-finishing products. In this case, the windows in the third floor were believed to be closed, causing a buildup of vapors that led to ignition. Adequate air ventilation should be available and should remain in place until the product has fully dried.

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