The importance of workplace health & safety practices: monitoring exposure to isocyanates

Isocyanates, as a chemical group, are one of the leading causes of occupational asthma in the UK. Exposures to isocyanates should be kept as low as reasonably practicable.

What are isocyanates?

Isocyanates are a family of highly reactive, low molecular weight chemicals. They are widely used in the manufacture of flexible and rigid foams, coatings such as paints and varnishes, and are increasingly used in the automobile industry and building insulation materials.

Common uses in the construction industry are in floor paints, floor screeds, flooring adhesives and expanding foams, mastics and rapid bonding adhesives used across the various trades.


The potential impact on human health

A recent court case resulting in a conviction of a significant breach of the Control Substance Hazardous to Health Act of 2002 has increased the awareness and need for workplace monitoring of this hazardous substance, [see article].

Isocyanates include compounds classified as potential human carcinogens and known to cause cancer in animals. The main effects of hazardous exposures are occupational asthma and other lung problems, as well as irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.

Other impacts on health from isocyanate exposure include irritation of skin and mucous membranes, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing.

The facts

The above case highlights the fact that employees who work with or produce substances such as paints, are potentially being exposed to isocyanates. It is important for employers to understand their responsibilities with regards to implementing control measures for exposure monitoring and protecting their employees’ health.

Engaging a suitably qualified occupational hygiene specialist will support them to assess their risk of exposure, and to ensure they are meeting the current designated exposure limits for dangerous substances outlined in EH40 and by the Health and Safety Executive, [see list].


A leading cause of occupational asthma

A recent study by Statista who performed a survey between 1998 – 2018, found that the leading cause of occupational asthma in Great Britain is exposure to isocyanates.

Regardless of whether someone has shown symptoms of asthma previously, over exposure to isocyanates can cause this condition to develop. The resulting effect can be severe asthma attacks with some medical professionals making a subsequent recommendation that the individual never works with isocyanates again.

How can we help?

To ensure that irritations or other more serious conditions aren’t exacerbated, suitable exposure controls and routine monitoring processes should be implemented.

RPS provide thorough workplace assessments to determine if employees are being exposed to hazardous substances and recommend the appropriate control measures to be implemented. Combined with our laboratory services – we also offer UKAS accredited analysis for all types of isocyanates (TDI, MDI, HDI and IPDI) – we deliver confidence for our clients that their exposure monitoring processes are adequately protecting employees.

For more information, please don't hesitate to get in touch.


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