Solvents, thinners and other flammable products including acetone, alcohol, benzene, gasoline, glycol, kerosene, methanol, mineral spirits, naphtha, toluene and turpentine, are used every day by businesses.
Workers may also have contact with these chemicals when working with products such as adhesives, carpet glues, cleaning fl uids, epoxy resins, hardeners, lacquers, paints, primers and asphalt or coal tar.
But when handled improperly, these products put workers at significant risk for health problems, along with the possibility of being caught in fires or explosions. The Nova Scotia department of Labour and Workforce Development has issued a hazard alert regarding solvents, thinners and other flammables.
Fire/explosion hazards include the possible buildup of vapors in poorly ventilated areas. These vapors can cause fires or explosions in the presence of sparks, open flames or even static electricity.
Static electricity may be generated when fabrics, such as clothes or rags, are rubbed together, or when a liquid passes through a pipe or opening or splashes into a container.
The hazard alert recommends using grounding and bonding as a method for safely dealing with static electricity. Bonding involves connecting two or more conductive objects with a conductor, such as a copper wire.
When bonded together, both objects will share the same charge. Grounding involves connecting one or more conductive objects to the earth using a ground wire to continuously discharge a conductive object to ground.
Another serious hazard involves inhalation of vapors from organic solvents and other flammable products. Such exposure over time can cause cancer, along with liver, kidney, heart and brain damage.
Solvents are also easily absorbed through the skin. They can cause skin disease and other serious effects when they enter the body.
The following preventive measures are suggested in the hazard alert:
Workers must strictly follow manufacturers’ instructions in material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and on container labels. All equipment and containers must be properly grounded or bonded to eliminate static charge. Adequate ventilation is required. All open fl ames and sources of ignition that may be present in the area must be assessed and controlled. All equipment present in the area should be fire-resistant and explosion-proof. Adequate product-specifi c information relating to potential hazards must be relayed to workers. Workers must be trained in and provided with appropriate respiratory protection where needed and its use must be ensured. Where needed, a respirator program must be instituted for the proper selection, use and maintenance of respirators. Where needed, protective gloves or cream barriers must be used to prevent direct skin contact with these products. Whenever possible, the use of less hazardous products is recommended.