Solvents are so common in many work places that workers forget how dangerous they are. A solvent can be generally described as a substance, usually a liquid, that is used to dissolve another substance. Although solvents can be used safely, health problems can result from skin contact with solvents or from inhalation of their vapors. In addition to the health hazards, many solvent vapors are flammable and explosive.

One of the most common health hazards associated with exposure to solvents is dermatitis. Contact dermatitis can develop from a single or from multiple exposures. It can leave the skin susceptible to a short-term infection or to a chronic condition. Exposure can also result in sensitization to the solvent, which is a delayed allergic reaction that often becomes more severe with subsequent exposures.

One big danger with solvents is that they can cause trouble before you realize what’s happening. Depending on the type and concentration of the solvent, exposure effects can range from mild respiratory irritation to severe damage to body organs and systems. In extreme cases, overexposure to solvent vapors can cause respiratory failure and death.

When working with solvents, it’s important to know what solvents are being used and what steps should be taken to protect against harmful or dangerous exposures. To optimize safety, follow these suggestions:

  • Know what solvents you’re working with.
  • Read the labels and the material safety data sheets of the solvents. They list the hazards, health effects, and safe handling procedures.
  • Make sure the workspace is properly ventilated.
  • Use recommended gloves, eye and face protection, boots, other protective clothing, or barrier creams as required.
  • If respiratory equipment is used, make sure it gives appropriate protection for the exposure.
  • Take care when pouring solvents from one container to another, as fire or explosions can occur from static electricity buildup.
  • Clean up solvent spills promptly.
  • Never wash your hands with solvents.
  • Prohibit welding, cutting, soldering, and other sources of ignition in areas where solvents are used.
  • Store flammable solvents in well-ventilated areas constructed of fire-resistant materials.
  • Ground and bond all tanks and equipment for storage.
  • Install readily accessible fire extinguishers in storage and work areas.

As with other toxic substances in the workplace, the preferred methods of hazard control are substitution of a less toxic substance in an operation, local exhaust ventilation, and enclosure.

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The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for medical advice or legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.

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