What Are VOCs and Why Must Worker Exposure be Controlled?

Volatile organic compounds are organic chemicals that readily evaporate at room temperature with many being used as solvents in products such as paints, thinners, adhesives, pesticides and degreasing agents.  VOCs are used extensively in a wide range of industries including engineering, construction, chemicals, printing, dry-cleaning, rubber, plastics, pharmaceutical, textile and woodworking.

VOCs can affect workers if they breathe in the vapours or fumes, if the solvent gets onto the skin and is absorbed or if liquid solvents are accidentally swallowed.

Different VOCs have different health effects but short-term exposure can lead to irritation of the lungs, eyes and skin, headaches, nausea, dizziness and light-headedness.  Exposure to high concentrations of vapour can lead to unconsciousness and death.

Long-term exposure to VOCs can also lead to serious health conditions with some VOCs having carcogenic, mutagenic or adverse neurological effects.

The risk posed to workers from exposure to VOCs must be assessed with and worker exposure managed down to an expectable level.  Some VOCs have a UK exposure limit (contained in EH40) though where workers are being exposure to several VOCs which have similar effects this 'cocktail' of exposure must be taken into account.

As with other hazardous substances, what an employer is required to do to protect worker health from exposure to VOCs is set out in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002.

How We Can Help

When you engage Viridis to conduct an assessment of worker exposure to hazardous VOCs our study approach uses a of combination of detailed observation and a range of validated measurement methodologies to:

  • assess worker exposure compared to relevant regulatory and/or in-house exposure limits
  • determine the efficacy of existing control measures
  • assess the suitability of any respiratory protective equipment used
  • assess the level of regulatory compliance.

Our study findings report will also provide recommendations to improve control and reduce risk to workers.