A colorless liquid often with a sweet smell that can cause serious health problems and even death.
A new Web page is devoted to protecting workers from exposure to toluene. It includes health hazards, protective measures, occupational exposure limits, risk assessment, and OSHA standards.
Toluene is typically used in a mixture with other solvents and chemicals such as paint pigments. Workers are at risk by breathing it in, getting it on their skin, having it splashed into their eyes, or swallowing it.
Symptoms range from various irritations, to dizziness and a feeling of being drunk, and numbness in the hands and feet. It may be especially dangerous for pregnant women.
"Breathing high levels of toluene during pregnancy has been shown to result in children with birth defects and to retard mental abilities and growth," according to OSHA. "There is evidence that exposure to toluene at work is associated with spontaneous abortion."
High concentrations of toluene may cause loss of consciousness, respiratory depression, and death. Long term and repeated exposures may affect the central nervous system.
Employers are required to train all workers who are in contact with toluene or materials containing it about the health and safety hazards, how to recognize exposure, and the protective measures that apply. If requested, employers must also provide workers with copies of safety data sheets provided by the supplier.
Among the protective measures suggested are:
- Substitute non-toluene-containing materials for cleaning and degreasing applications, and paint or adhesive, for toluene or solvent-based products.
- Substitute brush, roller, or flow application for spray application.
- Where substitutes are not feasible, ventilation is the most important protective measure to reduce the inhalation of the vapors. The ventilation may be a combination of local exhaust such as spray booths or enclosing and exhausting processes where toluene is evaporating, and room ventilation.
- Spray application should be done in a spray booth with local exhaust ventilation and no ignition sources in the area, as toluene is flammable.
- If the use of toluene causes wetting of the hands, impervious gloves are recommended. Neoprene or nitrile gloves are preferred. "Toluene is likely coming in contact with workers' skin if the gloves used to protect against toluene wear out quickly, get holes or become discolored," the Web page says.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
June 17, 2013
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