Control of Substances Hazardous to Health - COSHH Level 2 (VTQ)

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Many chemical substances that are used to dissolve or dilute other substances and materials are called solvents. Industrial solvents are often mixtures of several individual substances. They can be found under a variety of trade names, some may be different trade names, but the same chemical substance.

You are most likely to be exposed to solvents if you work in the following industries where they are used extensively: Engineering, construction, chemicals, printing, rubber, plastics, pharmaceutical manufacturing, wood working, dry cleaning and lastly, paint manufacture. If you do not work in these industries, you can still be exposed, as even in the office, there may be solvents used in cleaning. Solvents enter your body in different ways, you can breath in the vapors and fumes, they can come in contact with your skin, either directly or through solvent contaminated work clothes. They are absorbed into your body and then if you swallow the liquid solvents, they can directly enter your body.

If solvents do enter your body, there can be a short-term effect or long-term effect and sometimes death. Different solvents can affect your health in different ways, some of the short-term effects include irritation of the eyes, irritation of the lungs, irritation of the skin, dermatitis, headaches, nausea, dizziness and lightheadedness. When you are exposed to solvents, your coordination may become impaired, which may increase your chance of having an accident. Unconsciousness and even death can result of the exposure to high concentrations of solvent vapors. The long-term effects of solvents may include things like dermatitis, other possible effects on your health will vary according to which solvent you are exposed to. In general, the more you know about solvents and the sensible precautions you take, the safer you will be.

That is why getting information and training is so important. You can help protect yourself in many ways, for example, you can make sure your employer provides you with details of the hazards and particular solvents you are using, the precautions to take when you use them and what procedures you should use following an emergency. You can read the suppliers safety data sheets and container labels and follow their advice, you can ask your employer for clarification if you need to, you can wear any respiratory protective equipment, RPE, which your employer provides. You can keep all protective equipment in a clean place, make sure it is kept clean so it is fit for use. You can make the most of natural ventilation where appropriate by opening doors and windows, prevent unnecessary evaporation of solvents by using the minimum amount for the job, keeping lids on containers and using sealed containers for solvent-contaminated waste. Do not leave solvent-contaminated rags lying around, dispose of them in closed containers. If possible, use solvent-free materials, safer solvents or materials with a reduced solvent content that can be used and finally, if you are working in a confined space, then you are at higher risk. Ventilate the area and wear appropriate PPE.

If you believe your health is being affected by working with solvents or if you are concerned, adequate precautions are not being taken, you should first approach your supervisor, safety representative, or doctor as appropriate.