How to Handle Isocyanates in the Workplace
Isocyanates come from chemical reactions in plastics and polyurethanes. An employer must make sure that workers are safe from the risk of getting exposed to its harmful effects.
How Workers are Exposed
The most typical way a worker is exposed to the risk of isocyanates is through inhalation. But other ways such as entering the body through unprotected skin, having isocyanates released into the air during manufacturing, and using products that contain polyurethane can also put a worker at risk.
Workers in the following industries are typically exposed to this risk:
- Industrial Coatings
Common health issues may include:
- Short-term exposure
- Vapors can cause eyes, nose, throat, or skin irritation
- Liquids can cause rashes, inflammation, and swelling
- Long-term exposure
- Isocyanate asthma
- Hypersensitivity to isocyanates
How to Reduce the Risks
Workers must immediately wash their hands or skin if it has been contaminated by isocyanates, especially before eating. Work clothes should also not be worn at home so that a worker’s family is not accidentally exposed to isocyanates.
If symptoms are starting to get noticed by workers, it’s best to notify a supervisor and immediately seek a consultation with a physician.
Risk controls vary in their effectiveness. Below you’ll find them arranged from the most effective to the least. You’ll also find questions you can consider as you start implementing the controls.
Elimination or substitution
The most effective type of control is to fully eliminate the risk by substituting a safer method or material.
- Can products free from isocyanates be used instead?
- Can a process that produces fewer isocyanates be used?
Reducing exposure by means of physical alterations to the facility, machinery, and process used are under engineering controls.
- Can ventilation be better?
- Is it possible to put up a barrier to prevent unauthorized people in the area where isocyanates are used?
- Is the equipment used to apply isocyanates properly maintained and checked before every use?
Changing rules and regulations at work, providing awareness materials and training are all under administrative controls.
- Are written exposure controls and ventilation plans already developed?
- Are warning signs displayed in the work area?
- Can lockers and changing areas be made available for workers?
- Can workflow be arranged in a way that workers are away during isocyanate-generating processes?
- Are all workers aware of emergency cleanup procedures in case of isocyanate spills?
Personal protective equipment
This is the least effective when used alone which is why it must be paired with another control.
- Are workers wearing their proper personal protective equipment (such as respirators, eyewear, and clothing) at all times?
- Are these PPE’s properly maintained and tested?
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