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Alert: Hazards in Hardwood Floor Installation and Finishing

Hazard Summary:

Many solvent-based products are still widely used in the installation and finishing of hardwood floors. They are often highly flammable and/or combustible and pose a significant risk of fire and explosion. As well, when improperly handled they may cause acute or chronic health effects in workers.

The process of hardwood floor installation and finishing usually involves the use of three kinds of product:

  • An adhesive is used to apply wood flooring to concrete or other types of sub-floor.
  • A sanding sealer mixed with sawdust is applied to the sanded wood surface.
  • A varnish is applied as a top coat as soon as the sanding sealer has dried.

Improper handling of these products may present the following hazards:

Fire or Explosion

The use of these products in enclosed and poorly ventilated areas may cause a significant build-up of vapours, to a point where sparks or open flames can ignite the vapours, causing a fire or explosion. The Ministry of Labour has investigated cases in which fires and explosions have resulted in fatalities.

Inhalation of Vapours

These products contain organic solvents and other substances: epoxies, urea-formaldehyde, polyurethane, and nitrocellulose resins and additives. If the products are improperly handled, workers can be exposed to high levels of solvent or other vapours. Prolonged and repeated exposure to high levels of these vapours may produce both acute and chronic adverse health effects.

Direct Skin Contact

Direct contact with these products can cause skin dermatitis and/or sensitization. Sufficient absorption through the skin could lead to adverse systemic health effects.

Locations and Sectors:

Construction or renovation of low rise and high rise residential and industrial, commercial and institutional buildings.

Required Measures and Procedures:

  • The manufacturer's instructions included in the Material Safety Data Sheets shall be strictly followed.
  • Adequate ventilation shall be provided to ensure a dilution rate of at least 25% of the Lower Explosion Limit (LEL) of the solvent vapour mixture in the air.
  • All open flames and sources of ignition that may be present in the area itself or within the heating and ventilation systems shall be eliminated.
  • All equipment present in the area shall be fire-resistant and explosion-proof.
  • Adequate respiratory protection shall be provided and used. Respirators shall be fitted to ensure an effective seal between the respirator and the worker's face.
  • A respirator program for the proper selection, use and maintenance of respirators shall be instituted. The program shall include written instruction for workers.
  • Protective gloves or cream barriers shall be provided to prevent direct skin contact with these products.
  • Workers shall be trained to follow good personal hygiene, in order to prevent skin dermatitis, sensitization and skin absorption.
  • Adequate product-specific training shall be provided to workers, as required under the WHMIS legislation [R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 860 as amended by O. Reg. 36/93].
  • Less toxic products should be used where these are available, to prevent both short-term and long-term adverse effects in workers.
  • Less flammable or non-flammable and non-combustible products should be used where these are available.

This Ministry of Labour Alert has no legal effect and does not constitute and is not a substitute for legal advice. If you require specific assistance with respect to the interpretation of a legislative provision and its potential application to you please contact your legal counsel.

Remember that while complying with occupational health and safety laws, you are also required to comply with applicable environmental laws.

Please photocopy Ministry of Labour Alerts, distribute them widely and post them where people will see them.