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ALERT: What Do Applying a UV Treatment to Windows and Laying a Carpet Have in Common?

Both have killed! 

 Recently WorkSafe New Zealand released a Safety Alert about these incidents and this is just a brief summary.   

The article highlights the risks for workers (and others) when effective controls are not in place or followed.

·         Organic solvents such as UV treatment and adhesives in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation and lack of personal protective equipment creates a deadly environment.

These solvents readily evaporate in the air at normal temperatures.  Therefore, high levels of solvent vapours can build up quickly in enclosed spaces with inadequate ventilation and when room temperatures rise (e.g. small rooms or a shed on a hot day).  If solvents are also absorbed through the skin, as well as inhaled, the total exposure may be much higher.

In these circumstances, SHORT TERM EXPOSURE to very high levels of organic solvent vapours can cause headache, dizziness, light-headedness, progressing to unconsciousness and death.


What to do:

Before starting work using organic solvents, PCBUs must complete a risk assessment and review their controls.

It is important to consider eliminating the use of organic solvents by:

·         Replacing with solvent-free materials

If this is not possible then exposures can be minimised by:

·         Substituting the chemicals with less toxic ingredients or water-based solvent substitutes

·         Mechanical ventilation to increase the amount of fresh air into the work area

·         Increasing natural ventilation by opening doors and windows

·         Working outside in the open

Further minimisation controls include:

·         Keeping lids on containers to prevent solvent evaporating

·         Disposing solvent-contamination rags in sealed metal containers

·         Using only the minimum amount of solvent required for the job

·         Scheduling work with solvents during cooler periods of the day and/or when fewer workers are nearby

·         Never using solvents to remove paints or grease from skin.

As a last resort, use the appropriate personal protective equipment:

·         Use a suitable respirator with the appropriate organic vapour cartridge filters for the solvents used

·         Ensure the respirator is fit-tested for the worker, cleaned and maintained properly

·         Wear suitable coveralls and gloves to protect the skin.

Reference information that you may find helpful includes:

Managing risks of exposure to solvents in the workplace (external link)

Working with solvents (external link)

This summary is a good reminder to take organic solvents seriously and have proper controls in place.I especially like the suggestion of never using solvents to remove paints or grease from skin. This seems regular practice for many and I have seen it at home too! Our skin is our largest organ covering approximately 2 square meters (in adults) and weighing about 3.6 kg and so depending on the chemical, can absorb much!