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Isocyanate Exposure In The Workplace

19 August 2015

Bethan Stones headshot

Bethan Stones

Group Marketing Manager

Isocyanate Exposure in the Workplace

Recently, the Health and Safety Executive won a case against a paint spraying company in Derbyshire who had not complied with a number of improvement orders related to isocyanate exposure. The defendant was fined a total of £5,600 in fines and court costs.

What Are Isocyanates?

First, a bit of chemistry, isocyanates are organic (carbon based) substances, which always contain a nitrogen, carbon and oxygen functional group.

Isocyanate compounds are found in a diverse range of products, including “two pack” spray paints, lacquers, adhesives, certain coatings and insulation foam. They are common in motor vehicle repair, printing, boat maintenance and furniture manufacture.

What Can Isocyanates Do To Me?

The main routes of entry are inhalation and skin contact; however ingestion is possible where poor personal hygiene is observed (e.g. not washing hands at break times). Isocyanate exposure can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. They are also linked to dermatitis and occupational asthma.

The early symptoms of excessive isocyanate exposure are:

  • Recurring blocked or runny nose
  • Recurring sore or watering eyes
  • Chest tightness (often after working hours)
  • Persistent Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Breathlessness

If exposure is long term, then it may result in asthma that is triggered by breathing in minuscule amounts of isocyanate.

What Can I Do To Monitor Isocyanate Levels?

Every operator who comes into contact with isocyanates should undergo annual biological monitoring for isocyanates in the urine as part of their regular health screening. At the same time it is recommended that operators also undergo Spirometry (Lung Function) Testing.

In addition to the health surveillance, it is recommended that sites where isocyanates are used undergo regular air monitoring, to compare levels in the workplace with the relevant Workplace Exposure Limits (currently 0.02 mg/m3 over 8 hours).

Both air monitoring and health surveillance results should be retained and used to update COSHH Assessments.

How Should I Control Isocyanate Exposure?

For control methods, the hierarchy of control should be used to determine the most effective, but most reasonably practicable route to Minimise Exposure.

First, is it possible to eliminate isocyanate use entirely, or alternatively substitute current isocyanate based materials for less hazardous materials or substitute an alternative process. Where this is not possible, then Engineering Controls need to be investigated, some sites visited have specific enclosed spray booths for the use of isocyanate sprays, these are best practice in terms of control of isocyanate spray.

Where spray booths are used, these must be tested by a competent person on an annual basis, and the clearance time should be clearly displayed externally. Any design for spray booths should be done by a competent LEV engineer.

In addition to engineering controls, operators should be given information, instruction and training in the safest means of carrying out the work and be instructed to wash hands prior to rest breaks, eating, drinking, smoking and at the end of the work day.

The final line of defence is personal protective equipment (PPE), PPE alone is not sufficient in the use of isocyanates, but can be useful when used in conjunction with the controls discussed above. Where spray painting is carried out, operators should use air fed breathing apparatus. Operators should be trained in use of the respirators, and they should be fit tested to ensure an adequate seal. Operators in non-spraying environments should wear standard respirators with ABEK1 and FFP3 filters. All operators handling isocyanates should be issued and wear overalls, gloves and safety glasses.

Experts In Isocyanate Monitoring and Isocyanate Exposure

Envirocare offers a thorough Local Exhaust Ventilation Testing and inspection service including visual inspection, measurement and qualitative assessment which are instrumental in determining whether your LEV system is capable of providing satisfactory control of the hazardous substances as required by COSHH regulations.

Envirocare also provides comprehensive, informative and easy to read reports for Local Exhaust Ventilation Testing and as we are independent of any system provider, we can provide unbiased reports.

We offer comprehensive COSHH Workplace Air Monitoring and COSHH Risk Assessment advice to ensure compliance with the relevant exposure limits.

Envirocare will aid your COSHH risk assessment by carrying out COSHH air monitoring to determine the levels of substances in the workplace and ensure the WEL value is not exceeded for the substances you use. We will also provide a detailed report on work practices and findings together with recommendations for remedial action.

Envirocare are UKAS accredited for Dust Monitoring in the workplace to assist you in controlling employee exposure to dust and to offer you peace of mind. We current service a wide range of industries from large to small companies in chemical, woodworking, engineering and printing industries as well as in schools and colleges. This experience allows us to conduct COSHH local exhaust ventilation testing that are relevant and appropriate to the process operating.

Call us on 01274 738668 or fill out our Envirocare Enquiry Form for any queries regarding isocyanate monitoring, isocyanate exposure, workplace exposure limits, COSHH risk assessments or any of our many other accredited Environmental and Occupational Hygiene services.